Anybody Seen Ray-Ray?

Anybody Seen Ray-Ray?

A shark gray Ford Mustang with a shoe-sized dent in the passenger door rolled to the curb in slow motion a little after 11 pm. Two in the front seat, styrofoam coffee cups, empty plastic bags and other trash on the floor in the back. Black dude with a baldie, gold earring, elbow out the window on the passenger side. The driver, white guy, long hair with a trimmed beard leaning forward, chest against the wheel. Both peered out through the open passenger window.

“Anybody seen Ray-Ray?”

Alton, Chris, Junior, and Virgil sat on the top slat of a bench outside the playground in front of Building Two.

No one answered.

“Am I talking to myself?” the black guy said.

“Nah, we ain’t seen him tonight,” Junior said. And in a lower voice that could only be heard by Alton sitting next to him, “Officer.”

“You sure? Someone said they saw him here earlier?”

“Not tonight.”

“Well, if you do see him, tell him the night shift is looking for him. And it’s urgent.”

When the car left they all looked at each other and grunted.

“And it’s urgent.”

“You sure?”

“That’s a disrespectful question. Officer!”

“I know, right?”

“They should paint that shit blue and white and put a flashing light bar on top. They ain’t fooling nobody.”

“That’s Whittaker and Giordano,” Chris said. “Those two locked Marv up last week.”

“Marv lives in lock up, C. That guy’s in lock up so much Amazon uses it for his shipping address.”

Alton pulled out the roach joint he hid when plainclothes rolled up, laughed at nothing, and soon they were all weed laughing for no reason.

Virgil rolled a few more fat ones, stuck three in his shirt pocket, lit one up, coughed, and passed it around. There was a party going on in Building Two behind them. Somewhere on the upper floors. Probably 8D, Julius and Stella’s place. Always partying up there. They could hear an ancient Public Enemy jam pumping on high volume. Welcome To The Terrordome. Felt like the speakers were right behind them.

“One day I’m gonna get out of this place,” Virgil said.

“Where you going?”

“I don’t know. Get a house, move out to Long Island or Jersey or somewhere. Get away from all this. Too much bullshit here.”

“How you gonna get a house with a job delivering pizza?”

“I know, right? Broke ass nigga talking about a house.”

“In a white neighborhood, no less.”

Virgil reached over and playfully slapped Chris in the back of the head. Chris belched a cloud of smoke. He waited a few seconds then turned without warning and punched Virgil in the arm. They hopped off the bench and a slap and shove match ensued followed by wrestling and headlocks. The other two broke it up. Minutes later they were all laughing and smoking again.

A mud brown PT Cruiser stopped next to the fire hydrant. Two guys up front, one in the back. Latino boys Virgil recognized from Van Arsdale Houses on the other side of the boulevard. Even though it was approaching midnight, the driver wore black sunglasses. Like Stevie Wonder. The one in the passenger seat had an American flag bandana wrapped around his head, a Mephistophlean goatee that came to a point on his chin, hands out of sight below the open window. The guy in the back was obscured by the tinted glass, but they could see his ghostly outline behind it.

“Yo, V? Any y’all seen that motherfucker Ray-Ray?”

“Nah, man,” Virgil said. “Ain’t seen him tonight.”

“Dude over on the boulevard said he was down here with you guys.”

“Not tonight, Papi.”

“Why does everybody think Ray-Ray hangs out here?” Junior said.

“Yeah, we don’t hang with that guy no more.”

“He’s out there doing some dumb shit, bro,” the Bandana guy said. “He robbed Pepino’s mom yesterday. White boy on the boulevard says he climbed up the fire escape and broke into his place and stole some cash. Yo, he’s in big trouble. All sorts of people are after his ass.”

“Yeah, he’s kinda crazy now. He’s back on the stuff. But, nah man, we ain’t seen him.”

“Yo, you see that idiota pendejo, tell him Pepino wants to talk to him. To-night!”


“There ain’t gonna be no tomorrow.”

When the car left, Virgil revived the joint with a few strong puffs.

“The Latin Visigoths,” he said. “Ray’s got himself into some serious shit.”

“Pepino’s mom? They’re gonna gut him like a fish.”

“I feel sorry for the brother, but he needs to get off that shit.”

Chris shrugged. Virgil passed the joint to Junior.

Two neighborhood girls drifted by like they were walking underwater. Spandex tights, Lycra tops, deliberately wiggling everything around like their body parts were made of Jell-O. They left a scented trail of vanilla body oil behind. One of them was butchering a Cardi B song, completely out of tune, not even getting the words right. The guys didn’t care. They were enjoying the view. And although it was tempting, no one said anything. One of them was Graveyard’s sister. Nobody wanted problems with Graveyard.

When the girls were out of earshot, Junior said, “Damn, that Gwendolyn got herself a fine little booty back there!”

Like a panel of judges, the others concurred with tight-lipped nods.

The music up in 8D paused momentarily, but the raucous voices in the apartment still filled the air. In the distance, they could hear footsteps hitting the pavement hard, coming in their direction from the other end of the pathway near the Building Six playground.

Ray-Ray emerged from the shadows, running full speed, his face wide-eyed with terror, like he was trying to outrun the supernatural.

“Yo, Ray!” Chris shouted.

Ray-Ray ran past them, into the street, dodging cars like a bullfighter. He hit the next block and kept going into the bowels of the projects.

“What the….?”

“Yo, Ray!”

Ray-Ray was gone.

There was no one following him.

The guys looked at each other. Alton took a long pull on the joint.

“Muh’fucka’s legs were moving like that bird in the Road Runner cartoon!” he said.

“Word!” Chris said.

They had all mellowed out, sitting there slumped over, eyes closed, half asleep when another car came up the avenue. This one stopped with a skid and a screech. No one noticed the color, make or model. It was dark, could have been black, blue, or even red. All they saw was the front passenger side window go down, and then Alton yelled, “Oh shit, gun!”

They all flipped backwards off the top slat of the bench like a synchronized swim team going into water. Shots crackled and smoke rose from the car window as bullets ping-ping echoed and ricocheted off the building behind them. A first floor window shattered. A dog inside barked uncontrollably. Somewhere in the distance someone screamed. When the shooting stopped the sound of a car leaving a little rubber behind reverberated within the canyon of project buildings. The entire incident lasted no more than a few seconds, but seemed like eternity.

And then a woman’s voice somewhere in the darkness shouted, “Oh Jesus!  Oh Jesus! No, no!  Not again, not again!” And then Junior realized he was hit twice in both legs, and the pain, like high voltage electricity mixed with white hot fire, went straight through to the bone, and he screamed and screamed and screamed because he thought for sure he was going to die. Alton caught one in the fleshy part of the upper left arm, and while it hurt and he was bleeding and scared, he was still mobile and lucid enough to duck behind the row of hedge bushes that lined the walkway.

Chris and Virgil made it as far as the Building Two walkway where they lay face down. The blood pool that surrounded them broke off into five separate oblong shapes that looked like a miniature aerial view of the Great Lakes. The sound of wailing sirens filled the night, and when Alton saw that Chris and Virgil weren’t moving he began crying for help, and then Junior started yelling for help too. A few young guys came out of the buildings to see what had happened. The baleful moans of sirens grew stronger and seemed to come from all directions. Faces appeared in the project windows in silhouette. A small group of people from the playground near Building Six ran over and gathered in front of Building Two. Everyone was on their mobile phones.

The gray Ford Mustang with the dented door pulled in next to the fire hydrant and the two plainclothes detectives got out. Two patrol cars rolled in behind them along with an ambulance. Whittaker shouted instructions into his radio, while Giordano made a path through the crowd to get to the boys on the walkway. The patrol officers and paramedics followed.

“Ronnie!” Whittaker shouted to his partner. “Uniforms think they saw him on the avenue. Let’s go get him before someone else does!”

On the other end of the projects, Ray-Ray kept running and running until he couldn’t run anymore. He stagger-walked up the avenue, past the bright lights of the closed stores and shops with the metal gates and iron security bars and the piles of uncollected trash on the sidewalk. A cruising patrol car slowed to a crawl, the driver eyeing him with suspicion. Looking over his shoulder, Ray-Ray slipped into a dark alleyway off the avenue and hid behind a big green trash dumpster where he had slept for the past several days, ever since his father kicked him out for stealing money from his drawer. He knealt there trying to catch his breath as he listened to the sirens in the distance. He had no idea what was going on, but it sounded like they were heading for the projects. Which was good because that meant they weren’t coming for him. He pulled out the six twenty-dollar bills he had taken from that apartment on the boulevard, transferred them to his other pocket with the fifty dollars he took from that old Mexican lady the day before. He rolled under the dumpster and curled into a fetal ball. The ground was wet and smelled like piss, but that didn’t matter. All that mattered was that no one would see him there. No one would even think to look there until the next day when the garbage truck came by to take the dumpster, and by then he would be gone. He could stay there for a while, lay low, maybe get some sleep, light up another pipe in the morning, and move on before sunrise.

He had almost dozed off when the headlights and the sound of car tires crunching asphalt in the alley woke him up. At first he didn’t know who it was. And then he did.

“We see you, Ray-Ray,” a voice said. “C’mon out.”


About the Author

Michael Martin is an amateur photographer who enjoys street photography.  He has photographed parades and cultural events around New York City for two decades. He is the author of two story collections and two crime novels.  Some of his recent stories have appeared in Across The Margin, Bookends Review, Mad Swirl, and On The Run Contemporary Flash Fiction.


Photo by Michael Förtsch on Unsplash