“Safer,” I said. I guess he thought we should be trotting down the sidewalk, when God knows what was waiting in the doorways. Sometimes Steve was really dumb.
I kept thinking I saw something moving, out of the corner of my eye, but every time I turned around, it was just a shadow laying black against a doorway or an alley. I started through the alleys, looking for shortcuts.
“I thought we were sticking to the streets,” Steve whispered. I didn’t know why he was whispering, but it wasn’t a bad idea.
“I’m in a hurry.”
“Well, if you’re scared, I guess I should be terrified.”
“I ain’t scared. Bein’ in a hurry don’t mean you’re scared. I don’t like creepy empty places. That ain’t bein’ scared.”
Steve mumbled something that sounded like “Same thing,” but I didn’t want to stop and argue with him.
“Hey, slow it down, willya?” he called.
I slowed down all right. I stopped. Two live shadows stepped out of the dark ones to block the alley. One was white. One was black. The black had something in his hand that looked like a tire tool. Actually, it was a relief to see them. I was almost glad to see anybody.
Steve said, “Oh, God, we’re dead,” in a singsong voice. He was absolutely frozen. I wasn’t counting on any help from him. I just stood there, gauging the distances, the numbers, the weapons, like the Motorcycle Boy had taught me to, a long time ago, when there were gangs.
“You got any bread?” said the white guy. Like he wasn’t going to kill us if we had. I knew if we handed them a million dollars they’d still bash us. Sometimes guys just go out to kill people.
“Progressive country, integrated mugging,” Steve muttered. He surprised me by showing he did have some guts, after all. But he still couldn’t move.
I thought about a lot of things: Patty—she’d really be sorry now—and Coach Ryan, bragging that he knew me when. I pictured my father at my funeral saying, “What a strange way to die.” And my mother, living in a tree house with an artist—she wouldn’t even know. I thought about how everybody at Benny’s would think it was cool, that I went down fighting just like some of the old gang members had. The last guy who was killed in the gang fights was a Packer. He had been fifteen. Fifteen had seemed really old then. Now it didn’t seem too old, since I wasn’t going to see fifteen myself.
Since Steve had said something, I had to say something, even though I couldn’t think of anything besides “Bug off.”