Things went back to normal for a little while after Briggs got popped. Jeff thought about that a lot in the following years, how things always go back to normal, how it was nearly impossible to keep anything off-kilt forever. How not even death could disrupt the unending flow of time. Within days, that corner on 174th and 98th was operating as if Briggs had never even existed. If not for Jeff mentioning his name every once in a while—usually during a tip of his brown-bagged malt beverage, the yellow liquid splashing uneventfully on the street and down the drain like a homeless dude’s piss—Briggs would be all but forgotten.
Whenever Jeff mentioned Briggs though, he also mentioned La Sombra. He did this as a warning to the young’ns on the block, hoping the stories about all the people in the hood who’d up and disappeared throughout the years would keep them in line. What happened instead unsettled Jeff. One young cat named Marv ran up on him one day, heated, cussing about a rival down the street.
“That nigga keep talking that shit,” Marv said. “I’m goin’ straight up La Sombra on his bitch ass.”
“Don’t talk shit you don’t know nothin’ ’bout,” Jeff snapped at the boy, wagging a finger in the kid’s face. “That ain’t smart, bruh. Throwing that name ‘round like that.”
The boy nodded and accepted the reprimand, but Jeff noticed the looks of the rest of his crew. Their eyes didn’t flash with fear at the mention of La Sombra. Instead, they gleamed with reverence, admiration even.
Needless to say, Jeff was happy the day Carlos moved him from corner to distribution.
By then Jeff had moved out of the crappy apartment he shared with Slim and into his own place off 107th near Eureka. Furniture was still an issue, but it felt so good to have his own space that Jeff didn’t even notice there was nowhere to sit.
One day, a year after Briggs passed, Jeff was getting ready to go meet up with Carlos at a warehouse in West Kendall to talk about a recent shipment. Around noon, Jeff stepped out of the shower and dried himself, pulling on a fresh black tee and some jeans. Hooking his fingers into the pants pocket, he tugged the waist down to his hips then buckled his belt tight. He stored his Smith and Wesson nine millimeter (affectionately nicknamed Sally) between his pants’ waist and underwear, then slipped the long shirt back over it. Turning back to the mirror, Jeff stared at himself for a moment then walked out.
Outside, Jeff squinted against the glare of the midday Miami sun, his forehead prickling with sweat the moment he hit the sidewalk. Jeff held his hand up to shade the glare just in time to see a figure running at him. The figure was just a shadow at first, simply a blur, and Jeff’s throat constricted as the gap closed to five feet, four. At the last second Jeff jumped to the side, simultaneously pushing the figure’s outstretched arms away. His chest hitched as he thought to himself
It’s La Sombra. La Sombra got me.
The figure stumbled and fell into a patch of dried brown grass, quickly scrambling back up. Jeff remembered his gun then and whipped it out as the person turned to face him.
“Don’t fucking do it, bruh,” Jeff yelled. “I will put one in yo’ ass.”
Instead of a verbal response, the figure growled, pushing off the ground and stalking towards him again.
“I ain’t fucking playing man,” Jeff yelled, cocking the hammer. “Take one more fucking step!”
The figure stopped in a sliver of sunlight coming through the trees, pausing long enough for Jeff to focus on the face. When it finally materialized into physical features, what stared back at Jeff was haggard—yet familiar. It took him a moment to realize he was looking at a woman and not a man, though the hanging skin and slack jaw made her look more like a gender-less zombie. It took Jeff another moment to recognize who she was.
The woman took another step in his direction, her face coming fully into focus.
“Ma?” Jeff said, his voice strained.
“I need something, Little,” she said, her voice shaky and raspy. “They said you got what I need.”
Jeff’s stance wavered, the gun growing heavy in his hands. “Ma,” he said. “What the fuck?”
“Don’t talk to yo’ Mama like that boy,” she snapped, then smiled, a horrid sight. Half her teeth were missing, and the ones that remained were stained brown. “I need some medicine, and they say you got it. So give it to me.”
“Who is they, Ma?” he said, glancing around. “Who told you that?”
“Slim,” she snapped. “Buddha. Jesus Christ, nigga, it don’t fucking matter who told me nothing, you came from my goddamn pussy and you got what I need so you goin’ give me my medicine when I ask for it!”
Jeff’s resolve strengthened with a sudden burst of anger.
“Slim sent you over here?” he asked, his voice low. He took a step forward and grabbed his mother’s scrawny right arm, holding his gun at his side. “He the one been keeping you doped up?”
“Ain’t nobody keeping me anything,” she said, struggling. “Let go of my arm!”
“I thought you was at the clinic, Mama,” Jeff yelled. “You supposed to be at the clinic.”
“I was,” she said, yanking out of his grip. “I got better so they let me go. And I’ll be more better once you give me my goddamn medicine.”
At that, Jeff’s mother pushed him away with a surprising amount of strength. Jeff stumbled backwards a bit, catching his balance against the side of the building. His mother bared her teeth again, something gleaming in her left hand. Jeff peered closer and saw that she held a switchblade, gripped so tight her knuckles were pale.
Jeff raised his gun a bit higher, aimed at her arm, giving his mother a pained look. “What you goin’ do with that Mama?”
“Send you back to God,” she spit. “You don’t give me my goddamn medicine!”
“Mama,” Jeff said quietly, shaking his head. “You ain’t goin’ cut me. I’m yo’ son, Mama.”
Before the words were even out of his mouth, Jeff’s mother lunged at him. She was faster than he anticipated, and he was holding a gun he didn’t want to use. Jeff tried to jump away, but not before a searing pain ran up his right arm to his shoulder. He pushed his mother, grabbing at his bicep. She fell to the floor and immediately scrambled back up. Jeff looked at his arm, at the blood running down to his wrist from the four inch gash she’d placed just above his elbow. Raising the gun again, Jeff trained it back on his mom.
“What the fuck’d you do that for, Mama?” he yelled.
Jeff’s mother tossed the switchblade from hand to hand with a scary amount of dexterity, grinning at him demonically. Something in her eyes caught his attention, a darkness in her pupils that seemed to spread throughout until the whites all but disappeared, replaced by an oily pit of nothingness. Her grin turned to a leer, her cheek bones protruding like stalagmites above her cracked lips.
“You need to mind me, Little,” she said, her voice suddenly deeper, filled with a bass that rumbled through the ground. “Mind yo’ Mama now.”
She lunged at him again, moving almost amorphously through the air. Instinctively, Jeff pointed the gun and pulled the trigger. There was an explosion, his arm jerked back and the gun flew from his grip into the grass behind him.
Jeff’s mother didn’t simply fall—she was thrown backward by the impact, as if a grenade had exploded in front of her. The bullet hit her square in the chest, exiting out her back and taking a giant piece of her with it. Bloody chunks splattered the concrete as she fell, the deep dark pits of her eyes growing wide then lightening back to their normal hazel tint. Jeff watched her fall with terror gripping his body, even as he reached down, picked up the gun, and shoved it in his pants. His mother’s head had barely hit the concrete before Jeff was in the wind.
Walking rapidly away from the scene, a conversation he’d had with Carlos when he first got into the game floated to the surface of his sea of memories. It was the day Carlos had given Jeff his first gun. He’d handed it to Jeff by the barrel, patting him on the shoulder.
“Remember, do not take it out unless you are going to use it.”
Jeff had nodded, looking at the gun expectantly. Carlos tapped him on the shoulder, frowning.
“I’m serious, muchacho. You must be ready to use it, no matter who it is. Even if it is a friend, a family. You must protect you.”
Jeff had nodded absently, wondering internally who his first hit would be. He never once guessed this.
Three blocks down, Jeff turned a corner and pulled the clip from his gun—from Sally—and shoved it in his pocket. He dropped Sally in a back-alley dumpster, then walked another couple blocks and dropped the clip in a trash can outside the post office. By time the sirens came, he was already on the Metro, sitting in the back, face tucked away in his shoulder to hide the stream of angry tears.