“It’s ironic, but until you can free those final monsters within the jungle of yourself, your life, your soul is up for grabs.” –Rona Barrett
Rabbit had stepped out of the almost forgotten Alpo plant, having hurried past Copperhead and Zuzeka. The two girls had waved at him and he stopped to smile at them, knowing Copperhead would be in his dreams tonight, but he needed to get outside. He felt sick, uncertain if it was a side effect of the M or the surmounting stress. He knew Rattler was the real deal, better than his other work he had been doing, more money to be made, but this was huge. The white bag that Rabbit was now clutching was worth a lot of money, especially the way Rattler wanted to do it, and it could be worth more in the future. There was risk versus reward though, and with the chance to make all of that money meant a better chance to fuck it all up also.
Finally taking several steps away from the plant, Rabbit paused and hunched over. He thought he was about to throw up, but it was just spit. He just needed to go lie down. Rabbit stopped again to put the white bag full of M in his backpack, holding tight to the straps now light it was going to slip away at any moment—precious cargo. He was suddenly becoming rather paranoid on the way home, suspicious of everyone who passed him. Where was Phao when you really wanted him around? Rabbit had been held up a few times, but tonight was not a night this could happen. The more thoughts of that type that flooded his mind, the faster his pace became as Rabbit hurried to his home.
Mom and Bunny were already gone. The driveway was empty and the sun had almost finished setting behind the trees. Rabbit had spent a lot more time out at the Alpo plant than he meant to, and after his fun time with the M, all he wanted to do was go inside and sleep. Rabbit was so distracted by this the he almost didn’t see her sitting on the far side of the porch. Rakasha, the Wolf Mother, waved a long finger for him to approach. She was barely looking at him, cold eyes staring off at the setting orange orb, her long black hair with the streaks of gray framing her regal chin and stern expression. Rabbit was genuinely nervous as he stepped forward.
“Where you been, Rabbit?”
“Nowhere, Wolf Mother, just school and all, you know?”
Rakasha pursed her lips and finally turned to Rabbit.
“Nah Rabbit, I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me about it, tell me why you didn’t make it by to see me today.”
“I had planned to, but,” Rabbit paused, realizing he wasn’t prepared for this. Lying to Rakasha was not something to be taken lightly. “I fell asleep, Wolf Mother.” At least it was close to the truth.
“Funny, I had heard you had been on your belly with the snakes.” She stood now, staring him down. “You know how I feel about snakes, don’t you little Rabbit?”
“I… um… Copperhead I mean, we were…”
“You have a good thing working for me.” Rakasha put a hand on his shoulder. “You get to make a little bit of extra money while you play at being a criminal, have your share of fun, and most important thing is that I protect you.” Her hand cupped Rabbit’s chin. “You understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Wolf Mother.”
“And if you were working for the snakes, Rabbit, you know I couldn’t keep you in my pack, don’t you?” Rakasha’s hand turned the boy’s chin slightly, almost as if she were exposing his neck. “You would have to make sure it was worth it, this decision. Ask any of my cubs, I do not take back prodigal children so easily.”
“Make sure you do, Rabbit.” She removed her hand. “I would hate to see you dive head first into a world that you are not ready for.”
Rakasha did not wait for a response. She moved off the porch with one gliding step, heading up the driveway. It wasn’t until then that Rabbit noticed the other two wolves waiting for her up by the tree line. Rakasha rarely traveled alone these days, but if the stories were true, it wasn’t the lesser wolves that people had to fear.
If the story Old Panther had told him was true, Rabbit knew to be careful around Rakasha. Story goes that there was a time when a young cheetah tried to take advantage of her, take a large piece of her operation. We all know a cheetah only hunts the weak, the old, or the young, but I think this one just underestimated Rakasha because she was a woman, or a mother. I barely met a cheetah I like. But this ol’ cheetah here, he would take some of her profits and make some veiled threats at her cubs. Needless to say, she beat him to death with an old frying pan, after biting a chunk out of his throat. Old Panther has a tendency to tell a lot of stories, but ain’t none of them I can think of that was a lie, and Rabbit knew that too.
He fumbled for his keys, finally getting the right one into the lock and opening the door to his home. Like his mother reminded him so often, he locked the door immediately, pressing against the door for an extra moment, unsure if he felt safe yet or not. After a moment of silent contemplation, he rushed upstairs. After tossing his backpack on the bed and securing the white bag from it in the hidden space behind his bed, he went into his mother’s room. There was a chest she kept in the closet with all of the things Rabbit’s father had left behind. Notebook’s of poems from his youth, glasses, two hats, a pocket knife and a wood carving, as well as his own father’s pipe, but beneath the clothes and all the papers was a brown holster with an old six-shooter from his time in the service.
Rabbit’s father used to take him shooting with that revolver at the junkyard; it was how he had such a quick hand. They used to practice their quick draws, like it was the Old West, but those bottles didn’t stand a chance. Rabbit’s father was very careful and taught his son to be the same. As Rabbit sat there, removing the gun from the leather holder and examining it. He took the word cautious to mean having the weapon. He needed it.
Taking the holster and the few extra shells that were at the bottom of the chest, he put everything else back the way his mother had it. Rabbit returned to his room, putting the gun in his backpack. Laid down on his bed in the dark, with another rap song coming from his speakers, Rabbit had more thinking to do. He knew how much money his head was resting over at that moment, knew the risks. It was why he felt more comfortable with his father’s six-shooter just a few feet away from him. Rakasha’s warning was fresh on his mind as well, just a little more prominent then everything else that had happened that day, from Fox’s kiss to his experience on the M, not to mention that he thought he had a test tomorrow in Badger’s class.
Everything was swirling around in Rabbit’s head. He was tired. As his eyes got heavier, he felt a war about to brew in his mind for his pleasure. It was the battle of Fox versus Copperhead, both fighting for his affection, and Rabbit liked where this was going. His eyes had almost fully closed until he saw the blinking light on his phone, letting him know that he had a message. It took some effort to force himself up to get it and turn the screen on.
From FOX: “Sorry I didn’t call tonight. Hope you aren’t mad at me ;).”
Rabbit smiled when he saw who it was from. He thought for a moment what to reply, wanting to make sure he played his cards right. After he came up with something he thought was clever, he put a smiley face after it, feeling frisky.
Across town, Fox heard her phone go off and picked it up.
From RABBIT: “All good girl, I had stuff to do anyway, but you owe me some private time. J ”
Fox read the message and decided to pretend that she had already fallen asleep. She just wanted to make sure he was still okay after all. She had been through quite the day herself. Sitting in front of her mirror on the kitchen stool, removing her makeup in a room only lit by the bulbs surrounding the glass in front of her, she wanted a shower badly. Fox had already come home and discarded her clothes from the day, changing into an oversized button-up flannel that she thought was the most comfortable thing she owned and some boy-cut underwear. She still hadn’t felt relaxed yet though. It wasn’t hitting Fox that it was her nerves.
After Rabbit had gone inside the Alpo plant she had the bright idea to go the other way and get behind the building. Fox had to put her gymnastics and parkour training to work, but with how much the tree’s had grown up and the old window units sticking out, it wasn’t too hard for her to scale the building and find a broken out window and slip in. She was careful on the old metal walkways, cat-like in her movements. Well, she felt that way until one of the long metal pieces hanging groaned under her pressure. Fox just knew someone had heard it down there.
She had wanted to hear what Rattler was saying to Rabbit, but Asp had begun moving up around on the other hanging pieces of metal. Fox stuck to the shadows, praying that Asp couldn’t see her up there in the darkness; confident he couldn’t hear her now, since more of the railings were groaning with his movement, even the stable ones. She wasn’t sure exactly how long Asp looked for her, but she never moved, convinced that the shadows there were her best bet.
Fox was sweating by the time Asp called off his search. Although he had left her sight, she waited still, not wanting to take any chances. That was alright though. There was a large chunk of time that passed that was just Rabbit walking around and feeling on things, smiling at them as the M settled in. By the time she had made her way down on the catwalks, Rabbit was already under the effects of the drug, though Fox didn’t realize it at first. She watched him first for a few moments, making sure that her suspicions were correct. She finally dropped down and approached him, carefully checking the hallway first to make sure they wouldn’t have any surprise guests.
When Fox approached him, she could tell Rabbit did not see her, at least not in the way that she was looking at him. She saw his smile grow. Rabbit reached out and touched her face. Fox took the opportunity to touch him back, checking his forehead, unsure what to really look for since she knew nothing about the drug. Rabbit was trying to lean in for a kiss now, but this time, Fox wasn’t feeling it at all. She slipped loose of him and took a look around while Rabbit flailed behind her.
Moccasin and Asp hadn’t put the metal piece back over the safe, giving her a clear look at it. It was too bad she didn’t have her equipment with her for that. Fox made a mental note about preparedness. She glanced back over at Rabbit who had begun a fist fight with a broom. Fox stifled an unexpected laugh, pausing only another moment before jumping back up onto the hanging walkway. She went to get back into position, finding a spot where she could see and hear, but that she was certain wouldn’t put her in danger of being spotted.
Just as Fox was getting settled in though she noticed Rabbit flailing around, seemingly trying to pick up something that wasn’t actually in front of him. It was when he began to walk up the metal incline that she realized the problem in this. He was walking straight forward, towards the edge with several of the tall windows, towards the dead end that would have sent him falling onto a lot of metal and concrete. He was about to hurt himself.
Fox felt herself about to push off the wall, ready to pounce on him so that the fool wouldn’t hurt himself, but that was when she heard a noise from the hallway. Someone was coming. Copperhead had stepped out from the darkened doorway, looking around for the one she was supposed to babysit. The snake cursed when she saw where Rabbit was, rushing up to the metal walkway and leaping up on it. Fox gave the other girl credit for her athleticism and reaction time, but a part of her wished she could have been down there.
Fox watched Copperhead slap Rabbit twice and lead him back away from the danger, down to the seat they had been on. She allowed herself one small sigh of relief once that was done. The last thing Fox needed right now was for Rabbit to get hurt or for her to get caught while trying to stop him from doing it. Fox was surprised when they began getting close on the old leather seat, a range of emotions flying through her mind as she watched Rabbit and Copperhead get so close. It was interrupted though by the other boys coming back, and Fox couldn’t help but think that Rabbit just wasn’t having enough luck with the ladies and timing today. It still annoyed her for another second though, before she realized that now was the time for her to be listening.
Thankfully, Rattler projected when he spoke. Fox heard everything she needed to and decided that it was time to leave before everyone else started to do so. She pulled herself up using the wall this time, being much more careful not to cause any noise. It also helped that they were still talking as she left out the window that had let her in so easily. Fox had heard Copperhead and Zuzeka talking about Rabbit around the corner when she left, but she didn’t want to stay long enough to hear it.
Fox headed back to the to the tall grass that she had taken cover in earlier, not realizing until then that it would be getting dark soon. She had wanted to get out of the neighborhood before then, but the thought of making sure Rabbit made it home okay crossed her mind. She didn’t think the risk was worth it though. Rabbit was a big boy. He knew these streets better than she did. Rabbit would be fine, and following him home would mean one more chance of being detected.
Deciding that now was the best time to leave, Fox made her way back towards the road, away from the old Alpo plant. She kept the hood up still, trying to be careful. She had been out all day though, not to mention sweating her butt off up in those shadows, waiting for everything to go down. Once she was several blocks away, Fox had decided to stop at the convenience store at the corner, Baloo’s. She had dropped her guard just a bit, figuring that she was safe. That was why Fox didn’t realize that the person coming out of the store when she tried to enter was Phao.
“Hey,” Phao responded. “What are you doing on this side of town?”
“Was just… taking a walk. I had to get out of my house.” Fox found her recovery, “sorry, just a lot going on.”
“Well don’t just stand in the doorway kids,” Brother Bear called out from behind the counter. “Be a gentleman Phao and buy the lady a drink, she looks parched.”
“Not unless you’re planning on letting me start a tab,” Phao shot back. His eyes fell back over Fox for a moment though, her expression a bit more sad now. “Yeah, fine. Get her a soda on me.”
A few moments later the two cubs were sitting on the curb outside of the station, watching the old bum with the long colorful dreads, sipping on the glass bottles Phao had purchased for them. The sun was dying out in the distance, making way for the moon and her glory. There were several moments of silence between the two as they sipped in rotating order, until Phao finally spoke.
“So, what is it you’re doing with Rabbit?”
Phao took another long sip from the dark cola before responding.
“I just can’t figure it out. A girl like you.”
“Rabbit’s cute,” she defended. “He has a charm to him.”
Phao laughed. “All Rabbit has is a smile and a lot of hot air he calls game. I was there. I saw the whole thing, remember? You came after him.” He shook his head. “I’ve seen Rabbit go after girls like you, get shot down, get lucky with a few, but you went after him, which is odd.”
It was then that Fox realized that she had not given Phao enough credit. This time it was her that took the long pause to take another drink.
“Are you trying to get at something here, or just looking for gossip?”
“Actually, I think you were dodging.”
“I like him, okay.” Fox’s voice made her sound a little bit more upset. It help that her actual feelings were causing some of the irritation. “Why is that so hard for you to understand?”
“I think you’re playing him,” Phao said, looking away. “I just don’t know why.”
Fox stood, leaving the near-finished glass bottle on the concrete where she had been sitting. She was angry, but some of it was forced.
“You don’t know me, wolf, don’t pretend that you do.”
Phao looked up at her. He stood and met her gaze.
“I know your type, and I know what you want in the end. I just can’t figure out why you picked Rabbit.”
“What you know could fit in my pinky,” she said, holding up the digit. “Maybe you need to go revisit whatever girl wronged you or see if your mother can give you another hug to knock that chip off of your shoulder.”
Phao’s gaze became a bit more serious with that comment. He snorted and leaned down to pick up the two glass bottles they had been drinking out of.
“Don’t worry princess, I’ll take care of these for you. Brother Bear likes us to recycle.”
“Wait,” Fox said touching his arm. This is where the line blurred. She knew a lot about Rakasha, the Wolf Mother, and how hard she could be on her cubs. The remark had possibly been a tad over the line. “I’m sorry, I’m stressed. I mean, that’s no excuse but…” Her words trailed off, but Phao was looking at her, staring into her eyes. He wasn’t going anywhere.
“He’s my friend,” Phao told her sincerely. “I just want to make sure you aren’t using him.”
“I,” Fox paused, for some reason, not wanting to lie in that moment. “I’m not going to hurt Rabbit.”
Phao noticed the change in words but, that was good enough for him right then. He watched as her hand slowly slid off of his forearm. He slowly looked slightly to the left of her, clearing his throat before he spoke.
“It’s dark. You want me to walk you home?”
“You can walk with me,” Fox said with a smirk, “but you don’t have to.”
It was an odd ending to an interesting day, to say the least. In truth though, it was successful. Fox was proud of herself. She had sent the text message to Rabbit after getting home and then filed her report. There was a bounce in her step now as she stood up from the stool. She turned some music on, bouncing around to it as she unbuttoned the flannel shirt that engulfed her form, ready for that shower she had been promising herself.
She was about to toss the shirt on her bed when Fox saw that her phone had received another message. It was probably Rabbit trying to get her to respond, or maybe even Phao. Both possibilities enticed her enough to pick up the phone. Her expression faded when she read the actual message though. It was from work. The first line was a congratulatory statement based off her report, but the rest was just a mood killer.
The sun was rising, the birds were chirping, coffee was brewing, and Brother Bear loved the mornings. Dawn was his favorite time of day, taking a moment each day when he opened the store to stop and truly admire the beauty of it all. That was part of the reason the old brown bear always had a smile on his face. Everything was in place for the start of a good work day. He had the newspapers out, cigarettes restocked, and fresh doughnuts all up before dawn. Bear had propped the door open like he did every day that the weather was even remotely nice, wanting Baloo’s to feel inviting. Now all he needed was for the customers to come pouring in.
Brother Bear leaned back on the stool behind the counter, opening up a newspaper. His eyes scanned over the stories of the economy, stock markets, gang activity, and new urban renewal programs. He was enjoying reading the paper in the closest thing to silence the morning could offer as others headed to work, but something caught his eye in the headlines.
“NEW LAW MAY FORCE AN ENHANCED GENTRIFICATION OF LOCAL AREA.”
Bear’s eyes quickly scanned over the words, pausing a few times to go back and read, double checking what he thought he saw. The news wasn’t pleasant. He was nearing the halfway point of the article when the sound of a car pulling up caught his attention. Bear had only intended to glance up, quickly returning to the words on the page, but something was out of place. The car that had pulled up didn’t stop by the pumps, but instead came up to the front of the store, stretching over three different parking spots instead of pulling in the correct way to one. The car was sleek and black, a nice and expensive machine that looked out of place in that neighborhood.
Someone Bear didn’t recognize stepped out of the driver’s side, quickly making her way to the back of the car. The driver was wearing a nice suit and a pistol on her side. She glanced up in at Bear. She had those predatory eyes and angular features, her pulled back hair gave her a long and serious face. It was the look he had seen before on Panther many times, the look of a killer. Bear’s hand almost reached for the sawed-off underneath the counter.
She opened the back door of the expensive vehicle and stood to the side, making way for someone to get out. Now, Brother Bear knew the man who got out of the backseat. It was the eyes, and that smug look that stood out, even though he had shaved his head and finally grew out that stubble on his chin he used to try to pass as a goatee. There was something new on his face though, a set of three deep scars across the left side. How many years had it been since he had seen the little bastard, Bear couldn’t remember. He hadn’t realized how his hand that was still gripping the paper was tightening as the man entered his store.
“Now how in the world has this place not been demolished yet?”
“If it isn’t the old bear,” Shere said with a smile, stopping to pull his sunglasses off and slide them into the pocket on his suit jacket. “I know it has been a while, but it’s Regal Shere now.”
“New look, new name, but something tells me not too much else has changed.”
Brother Bear put the paper down and came around the counter, one massive hand resting on the top of the flat surface as he eyed the tiger. Shere laughed at him.
“See there old bear,” he said pointing a finger at him, “that’s where you’re wrong. You already messed up underestimating me. I am not the same kid you used to kick out of here all those years ago, and you’d do well to realize that.”
“Is that so?”
“That is so.” Shere said as he began to walk around the front part of the store, turning his nose up at several things he came across. “In case you haven’t been keeping up, I’ve made a little bit of money since I got out of the hood here.” He picked up a candy bar and laughed slightly to himself. “I came back though, to improve things. I didn’t want anyone to think I had forgotten the little people.” Shere headed up to the counter, tossing the candy bar up in the air and catching it. “You know, the ones that helped me,” after catching it again, he slammed the chocolate bar down on the counter, shooting Bear a look, “and the ones who annoyed me.”
Bear headed back around the counter, not playing Shere’s game. He picked up the chocolate and rang it up, motioning to the total displayed in blue on the small screen. Bear bit his lip, staring at Shere, wanting to ask a question.
“So, how did you get those scars, little tiger? They look pretty nasty.”
Shere’s smile had faded at once again being referred to as little tiger.
“Accidents happen, Old Bear. I let them serve as a reminder to everyone who needs it.”
Regal Shere dropped a twenty on the counter and picked up the candy that he used to steal from Baloo’s in his youth. When he did though, Bear noticed that Shere’s finger was still pointing at him, perhaps as a warning as he considered Shere’s last words.
The tiger turned and removed his shades from the suit pocket, pausing at the door a moment to slide them back on before stepping back into the awaiting sunlight.
“I’ll be seeing you around, Bear.”
Brother Bear slammed his hand down on the twenty that had been left on his counter, debating whether to take the money or throw it out for a moment before sticking it into the register. For someone who had a reputation of being jovial and calm, he was quite angry until Shere’s car had driven off. Am I getting the point across here about Shere? He wasn’t the likable type.
Now that the sour of his irritation was gone, Bear was ready to get back to trying to have a good day. He was about to pick up the paper before another shadow interrupted the sunlight that was trying to stream into his store. It was Old Panther.
“Damn, Baggy, but you sure are a sight for sore eyes. I’m glad it’s you in here now.”
Panther was entering the store, but his head was still turned looking over his shoulder. Bear also couldn’t help but notice one of his friend’s hands was firmly planted on the hilt of one of his black hunting knives. It was all of that training and the time in the war. Panther was the old type that wanted to sit where he could always see the door in a restaurant, or whose house was set up where there were only so many entry points, but multiple escape routes.
“Bageera,” Bear said to him a bit more stern this time. “You can put the claws away.”
“That car that just left,” Panther replied, as if he hadn’t heard Bear. “Was that who I think it was?”
“Sure was,” Bear said as he strolled to the cooler and grabbed two beers. It was their custom when Panther showed up this early. “New car, new look, new scars, same old stench, and you should check out the paper too.”
Bear handed Panther the bear first and then the newspaper. Panther retreated to his normal spot in the store, a stool in the corner where he could see the door and be close to the back door if need be. He popped the bottle cap off with one quick motion, using the side of the counter, a maneuver he had perfected as a teenager, and had only once messed up in Bear’s store. Brother Bear still picked on him about it from time to time, and there were very few individuals that Panther let make jokes at his expense.
Panther took two long swigs from the bottle, savoring the taste of the beer that Bear never let him pay for. He opened up the paper and began to scan the headlines.
“It’s on page three, nice and tucked away.”
He heard Bear, who was restocking the beers now. After taking a moment to scan a few other things that stood out, he found the article his friend had wanted him to read. He brought the paper a little bit closer, reading each line twice and much like Bear, not liking the words that he recognized. Panther was concentrating so much on the article that he didn’t reach for his beer again until he was on his third time reading through it.
“You need glasses.”
“You stay quiet,” Panther shot back as he took another long swig. “This says all this is being funded by the Cloudkicker project, but not who the money is coming from.”
“I’d be willing to take a guess.”
Panther thought for a moment. “Kahn Industries?”
“Now you’re all caught up, Baggy.”
“How many times I told you to stop calling me that,” he said with another drink of his beer.
“No clue,” Bear said with a smile. “I just ignore you.”
Brother Bear turned the radio on as he walked by to grab another case of beer, filling the store with an up-beat tune from the radio. He was moving to the rhythm, dancing slightly on his way back with the crate. It was the little things like this that kept him smiling so broadly.
“Not to kill your mood, Bear. But this is going to be a problem,” Panther said tapping the paper. “Maybe not tomorrow, or the day after, but soon enough.” He slid off the stool. “And I need another beer.”
“Have at it.”
By this point Bear had grabbed a broom and had begun to sweep the floors again, even though he had already done it once that morning. He enjoyed performing the activity with the music. Panther had made his way back to the cooler, removing another beer for himself, and then one for the road. He would wait until Brother Bear wasn’t looking to slip the ten dollar bill into the tip jar, or the one for the orphans fund, either made him feel better about all of the free drinks.
“You know, I saw something strange in here the other day.”
“What? A paying customer?”
“You’re a riot…”
“Between your charity and the thieves in this neighborhood, I’m amazed you can keep this place open, Bear.” Panther popped open another bottle against the side of the counter and took his place on the stool again, other than the drinking, he barely moved, like a statue.
“Anyway… I saw Phao in here, which isn’t uncommon in itself, but he seemed really chummy outside with a fox girl.”
“Mmm, pup thinks he knows a little something about love, eh?” Panther smiled and took another sip before returning to his natural pose, watching the door as a customer entered.
“He couldn’t be doing too bad,” Bear said as he went to ring up the customer. “They walked off together.”
Father Panther waited until the patron had left the store, eyeing him a bit. Bear realized that this made some of his customers uncomfortable, but there were several that he wanted to feel that way, so he never said much about it.
“You find this uncommon because you think she’s out of his league?”
“Oh, I know she is.”
“What about Rabbit, you seen him around?”
“Sure, the other day,” Bear answered as he went back to sweeping.
“I see things too, talk to people,” Panther remarked. “I saw Rakasha yesterday, said she was on her way to see Rabbit.”
Brother Bear actually stopped his sweeping at this, looking up at Panther and leaning on the broom, waiting for him to continue.
“I can’t figure it was good.”
“If I had to guess, I’d say he didn’t listen to me. I’d say he was getting wrapped up by those damn snakes.”
“Think he’s in trouble?”
“I think he will be,” Panther said, finishing off the second beer. “Ever since Rattler took over from Kaa, those snakes got their fangs back. They stopped staying low on their bellies and realized how strong they were together, especially with that new one that came from down South.”
“That kid they were calling Asp?”
“That’s the one.”
Brother Bear sighed and leaned back off of the broom. He returned the item to its spot in the corner and picked up the two bottles that panther had polished off, tossing them both into the oversized trashcan near the restroom door.
“Want me to have a talk with him,” Bear asked.
“Don’t think it’d do much good, but sure.”
Panther wasn’t looking at Bear as usual, staring out the door at someone.
“Should I try and have a chat with his mom then, with Hare?”
“Not a bad idea. Not sure it’ll do anything.”
“Well then what the hell do you suggest then?”
Panther finally slid off of the stool and looked to Brother Bear with a stern expression.
“He made his choice.”
He popped the top off of his to-go beer and headed towards the door.
“Be seeing you around, Bear.”
He wanted to say something from behind his counter, try and rally more support for Rabbit, but Brother Bear couldn’t think of anything to say that he thought might actually help. Panther was already out the door, but he hadn’t gone too far, stopping to look at the bum sitting on the concrete curb of Baloo’s. The man with the multi-colored dreadlocks didn’t look up at the panther, but knew he was being looked at. There was an odd moment of silence that neither regarded at first.
“I still don’t like you being here.”
“I ain’t got nowhere else to go, Panther. You know that.”
Panther sighed and took a long drink.
“If you’re going to stay, at least keep your eyes open, cause something is brewing.”
Old panther headed across the parking lot, sipping his beer as he traveled, one hand close to his knives. The war may have been over, but some people never let go. Bear was looking forward to a full day’s work, but Panther, he had to go see Rakasha. He made his way down the street and then…
You know, actually little cubs; that may be a story for a little bit later. Old Panther, he has quite the long history, and sadly, I don’t just mean from the war. I know most of you are too young to know about it, but you will one day. You hang around old folks like me, you’ll learn a lot, but for now, let me see if I can get us back on track.
This story is about Rabbit after all. And things were looking up for him. Over the next week or so he had begun doing what Rabbit did best, talking up people, spreading the good word, and giving out those free samples, and just as Rattler had predicted, all that work paid off. It wasn’t long before folks started throwing money at Rabbit for what he was selling. Once Rabbit had paved the way, Rattler sent out the other Nags to distribute as well. Rabbit was still his top seller, able to get to places and reach people that the snakes couldn’t. Rabbit knew he was a valuable commodity too, because he had made more in that week with Rattler than he had in months with Rakasha, especially with the bonuses.
There were other perks too. Rattler had told Rabbit that he was always welcomed at their den, the old Alpo plant. There was always beer there, recreational drugs, and girls. Rabbit liked all of that, even if he had to watch himself with the last one, as his relationship with Fox had taken off as well. The most important thing that the plant offered though was a place away, without his mom and sister, and somewhere Rabbit felt that he could let loose. Rattler also made sure to remind him that if Rabbit ran into any trouble, that there was a gang of hard cases ready to rough up whoever needed it.
Rabbit was all smiles as of late. He felt on top of the world. The only thing that was suffering was his schoolwork. He had taken that night to try and make a dent in the work, staring at his text books like they were in foreign languages, and let’s just say that Rabbit wasn’t one much for taking notes. Phao had called to see how it was going with his friend. Things had been a bit different with them as of late. Rabbit knew Phao wasn’t the one who sold him out to Rakasha. No matter how loyal Phao was to his mother, that wasn’t his way. Phao reminded Rabbit that the Wolf Mother had a long list of people who reported to her, kept her in the know. She was well informed, especially with the vultures at her beck and call. We all know vultures aren’t too loyal, but they always have some information you want or know where to find a quick score. However she found out didn’t matter now, Rakasha kept her word to Rabbit. As soon as he began slinging for the Nags, he was cut off from the wolf pack. Phao couldn’t be around Rabbit as much other than at school, so they talked on the phone more on nights like tonight.
“This shit is too hard man. This book makes no sense.”
“Are you still on covalent bonds?”
“Yeah, I’m still stuck on this,” Rabbit said irritated. “I’m seriously wondering if I can pay her off. She seems like the type.”
“Dude, you can’t buy your way through high school.”
“Why not? I don’t need this-“
Rabbit’s words were cut off by his door slamming open. Bunny stood in the doorway, her bag still slung over her shoulder from work. She was wearing a hooted sweatshirt with her cut-off jeans, her pink and purple hair tied back in a ponytail, and there was a sour look on her face.
“We need to talk, now.”
There was a moment of silence. Rabbit was used to responding harshly to his sister, a continuous back-and-forth confrontation between the two, but this was as serious as he had ever seen her.
“Phao, let me call you back man.”
Rabbit hung up the phone and stood up from his bed. He approached his sister.
“Something wrong with moms?”
Bunny clenched her teeth and swung the back from her shoulder at him. The bag contained her work clothes, but most important to this moment, two sets of tall black high heeled boots, which was the part of the bag that struck Rabbit’s shoulder. She hit him twice and swung a third time, but he had managed to duck away.
“She would be sick if she knew what I found out tonight,” Bunny yelled, letting her bag drop to the floor. “Do you forget where I work? Who I see on a nightly basis.” She was leaning into Rabbit now, almost choking him. “You think I wouldn’t found out what you’ve been doing, what you were selling?”
“Get off me!” Rabbit pushed her back finally and slid across the blankets to the other side of the bed. “What are you even going on about?”
“I know about the M. I know you’re running with the Nags now,” Bunny’s finger was waving accusingly at him. “You burned your bridge with Wolf Mother and you’re pissing off the Bandar.”
“Well that’s my business.”
“You think so? What if mom or Old Panther knew? What you going to do when Wolf Mother or the Bandar decide you’re spreading out into their territories, or that your profits are cutting into theirs?”
“I’ll handle it. What’s it to you?”
Bunny laughed. “You mean your new friends are going to handle your problems?”
Rabbit came back around the bed at his sister’s lack of respect, his eyes flashing with anger.
“I’m not going to take your lip. I’m not taking shit from anyone anymore,” he said with a raised tone. “This is not your thing. It isn’t mom or Panther’s business either. This is about ME!” Rabbit pointed to his chest and then pushed his sister back. “So get out of my room unless you’ve got something else to say.”
Bunny was furious, spitting mad. She had a lot more that she wanted to say, but it was all going through her mind too fast.
“Do you even know what that shit does? M, have you seen it?”
“I’ve done it. I know exactly what it does.”
“How much? How much have you done.”
Rabbit paused before he admitted, “just once, but I was fine.”
“Well maybe you should come down to the club tomorrow. Cause you’ll see quite a few people who have done that shit more than once, a lot more, and it has fucked them up bad.” Bunny took a step towards Rabbit again. “That drug is ruining lives, making them do crazy things for just another taste. It has turned some of them into straight up zombies.”
“No one is making them take it, Bunny.”
“Are you listening to yourself! You selfish son-“
Bunny’s words were cut short by the front door slamming shut. Hare had come home early. She clenched her fist before poking Rabbit in his chest with her free hand.
Hare came up the steps. She raised an eyebrow seeing both children standing in Rabbit’s room looking at her.
“Were you two shouting?”
“Rabbit’s music was too loud,” Bunny answered quickly.
“That’s no reason to shout,” her mother replied. She looked back at Rabbit. “You should be in bed, you have school in a few hours.”
“I was…just studying,” he said, motioning to the books on his bed.
Hare smiled, thinking that was the first time in a long while that her son had done that.
“Still, get some sleep. You won’t do yourself any favors being tired.” She half turned to leave before stopping to look at Bunny, “go on and get out of there, let your brother get some sleep.”
“Right, mom.” Bunny groaned after Hare’s door closed.
Being younger, mom always gave Rabbit more leeway, even though she knew better. Hare also didn’t care for how Bunny had chosen to make money, thinking that the low pay and embarrassment at Cougars was better than being an exotic dancer, even if the tips were keeping the family afloat. It just pissed Bunny off more that Hare knew what Rabbit did, knew that he worked for the Wolf Mother in her ring, but it was the same way of doing that business, so she let it all slide for the most part. Maybe she just didn’t want to deal with it. Since their father’s death, everything else had been so hard, maybe that would have been the final straw. Bunny didn’t have to like it though.
“I hope you don’t sleep well,” Bunny said before shutting Rabbit’s door.
Rabbit stared at his doorway for a moment after it had closed. The house was quiet, and that unfortunately gave Bunny’s words time to run through his head again. He turned his stereo on low, anything to help him drown his thoughts out. Sitting back down on his bed, he wondered when his sister had become the moral one of the family. Not that anyone else was that bad, just mostly that he himself had kind of typecast her after she became a stripper.
He laid back at first, still unable to push her words from his mind. Rabbit had a conscience, he just didn’t like to admit it. Rabbit thought about it for a few more minutes before looking over at the clock. He sighed, knowing he needed to be up in two hours now, and that he couldn’t afford to miss any more school. He got up for a quick moment, pushing the bottom part of his bed out of the way to reveal his stash. Rabbit pulled out the second shoe box and opened it. The cardboard box held six rolls of money, mostly fives and tens, with a few ones and twenties mixed it. Rabbit ran his hand over the tops of the rolled-up and rubber band bound caches before picking one up and lying back with it on his bed. Rabbit needed to clear his mind, focus on what was important. He leaned back and slid a hand down into his boxers, deciding to masturbate and try to sleep, hand still clutched tight to the stack of money.
Rabbit was quite tired the next day at school, taking homeroom and the first two periods to catch up on the missing hours of sleep. There was a large puddle of drool involved when the Giraffe yelled at him, but now he was heading to his math class with Mr. Badger, one which he would not be able to sleep through. Barely able to muster enough energy to remember where the book for that class was, Rabbit decided that it would be best for him to just skip.
After slipping out the back door, Rabbit headed down the hill to take up one of his usual hiding spots behind the vocational building. He had hidden there numerous times. It was a convenient spot just past the auto shop, shaded, spacious, a good view of the neighborhood at the bottom of the hill, and too far out to worry about getting caught.
Rabbit sat down behind the building. He watched the cars move about the neighborhood below him before pulling his wallet out and fishing around for the joint he had tucked away in the crease. Placing it in between his lips, he pulled the lighter from his pocket and lit the blunt, taking in a deep inhale. Listening to the sounds around him, Rabbit thought about how much he hated it there. Several of the others had begun talking about college, careers, families… that was if they didn’t already have a few cubs of their own running around. The idea of even more school after all of this made Rabbit sick to his stomach. None of this was for him.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t ambitious, to the contrary in fact. Rabbit was ready to do something, be something, and to make his name at any expense. The more Rabbit puffed on the weed, the more he wanted to think about it.
Just as Rabbit was about to lean back into the warm awaiting grass, someone caught his eye. Down the hill and to the right, just outside of the senior parking lot, there was a woman standing next to a black car on the other side of the chain-link fence. Squinting now, he was almost certain that she was watching him.
The woman was dressed in a black suit, and what Rabbit could make out of her gaze seemed serious. She had long dark hair over her shoulders that also kept her him from making out too many details of her face. He looked at the blunt for a second and rubbed his eyes, almost expecting her to be gone when they were opened, but that wasn’t the case. Rabbit stared even longer, the paranoid really setting in as he realized that the woman wasn’t moving, even though she had clearly been spotted.
“Hey,” a voice called out.
Rabbit jumped, clutching at his chest and then his backpack, where the six-shooter was. When he turned though, he realized it was just Phao.
“Calm down,” Phao said, extending a hand.
“Dude, but,” Rabbit turned back to the woman that had been watching him, but she had already gotten back into the car. The vehicle was cranking now and preparing to drive off. He watched it for a moment before turning back to his friend. “Some weird shit dude.”
“What was,” Phao asked, dropping his bag onto the grass.
“There was…,” Rabbit began to explain, but convinced himself that it was just the weed. He was being too paranoid he thought, a little jumpier than normal as of late.
Rabbit didn’t answer Phao. He just passed him the joint and the two sat down on the grass. Both boys puffed then passed for several minutes, finishing off the joint in silence. After that there was some mild griping about classes from Phao, and then Rabbit asking more questions about covalent bonds and algebra. Phao wasn’t the best student in the world, but no one in their right mind took a bad report card home to Wolf Mother if they wanted to sleep peacefully.
It was lunchtime now, and Phao had stolen two bags of chips and a soda from the cafeteria. He gave one of the bags to Rabbit and the two sat and watched the cars as they ate. Neither realized that they were being stalked from the shadows until she pounced. Fox’s arms wrapped around Rabbit’s neck from behind, pushing the scrawny boy over and knocking his cowboy hat off. He was surprised, but thankfully a tad less jumpy than when Phao had approached him. He still made a small sound that could have been a yelp, but it was hard to make out over Fox’s laughter. The two lay in the grass for a moment, both laughing now and exchanging hello kisses before sitting back up.
Phao had ignored the actions that were beginning to become common place over the last few days, finishing off his chips and tossing the bag onto the concrete by the building. The new couple shared one more kiss after Fox found her spot in between the two boys on the hill.
“I miss anything,” she asked.
“Not a damn thing,” Rabbit answered. “This day has pretty much gone to shit already.”
“Did you skip class again?”
“You know he did,” Phao answered her. “He was here before I was, and my class is the closest.”
Fox shook her head.
“Are you two ganging up on me?”
“You do want to actually get out of high school eventually, right?”
Phao’s question was almost serious, even though it sounded like a joke with his tone.
“Oh, I’m getting out of here.”
“Yeah, but I would like to see you graduate.”
Phao laughed after Fox backed his comment again. She turned and smiled at him briefly before wrapping her arms around Rabbit’s waste. She had done so because Rabbit seemed to be getting flustered.
“Can we change the subject please, or do we want to harp on me some more?”
Phao laughed again and grabbed his backpack with one hand.
“I’ll go find something else to do, give you two some time alone.”
“No, don’t,” Fox said, stopping him. “I have to go make some copies in the library before my next class, might even check out a book for once. You two hang.” Fox stood, her hand trailed on Rabbit’s cheek for a moment though, looking at him. “We’re still on for after school though, right?”
“You know it. Wild horses and all that,” Rabbit said to her with a smile.
Fox smirked and leaned down for one last kiss, “until then.”
Phao looked up at her, catching her gaze before she moved off.
“Hey, did your dad get that job?”
“He got one route,” she told Phao, “but it isn’t enough from what he told me. He is still looking. At least it is something though.” Fox’s expression faded slightly at the new line of conversation.
“I… could talk to my mother if you want. She may have something.”
“Phao, I don’t-“
“Don’t believe all the rumors about her,” Phao interrupted. “She’s a businesswoman.”
“I’ll mention it to him, okay?”
Fox waved to both of them and said her goodbyes before heading back around the vocational building. There was a few moments of silence as Phao rummaged through his pack and Rabbit watched him. He wanted to make sure Fox was out of earshot before he asked Phao the fresh question on his mind.
“When did you two become so personal?”
“Huh,” Phao questioned as he looked up.
“Asking that shit about her dad. Are you trying to make me look bad?”
“What,” Phao asked, genuinely confused. “No, I just walked her home a couple of times. She mentioned that they are in some financial trouble. I just thought I would ask her how it was going.”
“And offer to hook him up with a job through Wolf Mother?”
“What the hell is up with you? Don’t you want me to get along with your girlfriend?”
Rabbit had honestly already let it go before Phao’s question left his mouth. He had been thinking about something else, and although Rabbit hadn’t thought of talking to Phao about it, the situation had suddenly changed his mind.
“Nah, nah that’s fine man. I mean,” he stared at Phao for a long moment. He turned to his friend. “Okay, look, something is on my mind, and it is driving me nuts.”
“She hasn’t fucked me yet!”
Phao sighed. He crossed his arms over his knees and placed his head down on them.
“Are you kidding me, Rabbit? You’ve only been dating like a week.”
“We’ve been doing everything else.”
“Oh my Gaia. Really? Dude… you really don’t know shit about girls do you?”
“What do you mean,” Rabbit demanded with a raised tone.
“This isn’t ninth grade anymore. You aren’t just getting head from Blue Bird behind the gym between classes like you used to, or whatever you had with that turtle chick you were embarrassed to talk about. You have a chance at a real relationship with Fox.”
Phao stood, brushing his pants off. Rabbit placed his cowboy hat back on and stood up as well before responding.
“I am thinking about the relationship, and it’s time to take it further.”
Phao shook his head, “what if she isn’t ready?”
“I got a plan.”
“Fox has been saying she needs to relax, and she can’t say she has class or shit else to do tomorrow.” Rabbit reached into his pants as he spoke, pulling out a small baggie of the shimmering brown substance just enough from his hiding space so that Phao could see it. “So, I am going to help her do that, and help myself get some pussy.”
Phao looked stunned for a moment.
“What the fuck, Rabbit. Are you seriously saying you are thinking about getting Fox high just so you can have sex with her?” Phao pushed a finger into Rabbit’s chest. “That’s taking advantage of her, it’s rape.”
“No, it isn’t,” Rabbit said. “She has been talking about getting high off this stuff with me since we started going out, and I didn’t say I was going to force her or anything. You’re saying some shit that just isn’t true.” Rabbit pushed Phao’s hand away. “Why would you do that man, you’re supposed to back me up.”
“I don’t like it dude. Her first time with you shouldn’t be when she is geeked out of her mind. It’s not cool.” Phao took a step back, he wasn’t looking for a fight. “I can’t support you if you’re doing something stupid. You need to seriously think about this before you do something you’re going to regret.”
The two boys stared at each other for a moment. Phao was getting ready to turn and leave, but for once, Rabbit realized his friend had a point. The problem with Rabbit was that he had a little voice inside of him that asked if it really mattered, as long as Rabbit got what he wanted. And that was where the real conflict lay.
“Phao, you’re right.” Rabbit raised a hand for him to stop and then lowered it, turning to look away for a moment. “You’re right. Maybe I should just talk to her, just be upfront.”
“Yeah, maybe you should,” Phao shook his head. He never made the mistake of thinking he was any type of standup fella or anything, but there were times he really worried about the way Rabbit thought. He headed off back around the building, leaving Rabbit alone to skip the rest of his classes.
That is the problem with most people though, and why it is hard to be trusting. Most people only saw what Rabbit showed them, which he realized early on he had to be careful about. No matter what he actually thought, it was what was expected of him that he had to do most of the time. Rabbit spent the rest of the school day thinking about Fox, imagining what he wanted to do to her, and had decided to keep the M open as an option.