Dropping Science
by Andrew Bernstein

 

  Reggie H.A.R.D. scowled. He practiced every day in the mirror and prided himself that the look was threatening. Most of the homies in his Bed-Stuy ‘hood believed he didn’t need the practice. “No sorryass, pantywaist, whitemanloving, booktoting, schoolboy nigger going to dis The Posse, brown. You volume?”

Books lay scattered at the victim’s feet, pages torn from chemistry texts, pre-calculus notes and a thick volume of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Sheets of paper fluttered on the breeze across the intersection of Marcy and Gates Avenues. Around Reggie stood six members of the youth gang that terrorized the section of Marcy south of Lafayette. Though none bulged like their leader, they all hunkered over their foe. From the waistband of several baggy jeans, thrusting against designer sweatshirts and nylon windbreakers, jutted the ends of hard and unseen objects. And yet, the smallish teen-ager in front of them appeared more self-possessed than scared.

“I hear you, Reggie,” Walker S. Peabody replied calmly. “In fact, the whole neighborhood does. But you could enunciate with greater clarity.”

One did not remonstrate with Reggie H.A.R.D., and members of The Posse stared bug-eyed, speechless, for a moment. But their leader had been at no loss for words since he was fourteen months old. “What? You know what your name be, nigger?”

“I told you. Walker S. –“

“Don’t bull Reggie with that sadsack Walker S. Pealittle rap, yo. You name is Hump. That be short for Humphrey van Weyden. You xerox, fem?”

“Hump-free van Wy-den,” the brothers cackled, slapping high fives. But Walker’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully, though he said nothing in reply.

“I tell you for last time. You be carrying words on my walk, I nine you sorry, educated ass. That today’s lesson, Hump-ster. Next time they crate you in ice.”

Without a backward glance, the members of The Posse followed Reggie as he swaggered slowly down Gates Avenue. But Walker didn’t watch them. He didn’t even notice the blood trickling from his left nostril where Reggie had permitted one of his minions to cuff him. He saw only the torn pages of King Lear staring at him from the gutter.

At school the next day, Mr. Lomax, his eleventh grade English teacher, noticed the taped bindings of his texts. “Isn’t there some other way you can get home?” he asked gently when they were alone after class.

“The Posse controls the entire neighborhood, sir. Besides, I live on that block.”

The English teacher looked out the window at the Brooklyn slum surrounding the school. “And they regard learning and wisdom as utterly inappropriate to the black man.” It was not a question, but a statement. “Dear God, they’re more fully enslaved by their own racism than were our ancestors.”

Walker nodded. He knew his teacher’s view that education—not athletics—was the only real ticket out of the slums; money and fame did not extricate one from a slum mentality. He knew also that Walter Lomax did more than talk the talk. Never knowing his father, with a mother on welfare and barbiturates, Lomax had grown up in Harlem with the fervent commitment that he’d not go down with the family ship. And that, perhaps, he might rescue one or two of his mates. He excelled in every subject at Benjamin Franklin High School. When the street gangs of the early sixties harassed him, he did not confront them. Believing that violence was no answer, he sneaked around and avoided them. He studied until three and sometimes four in the morning. His grades got him accepted at every college to which he applied, but he stayed local, attending CCNY. With financial aid, he was able to move closer to school, but he returned almost every evening to the tenement on 128th Street. Absorbing beatings at times from gang members, he exhorted everyone who would listen to stay in school. He was not sure if anyone did. But thirty years later, with decades of teaching experience and a Masters Degree from Columbia, he knew. He was a pitiless task-master in class, accepting no excuses for work undone. The slackers, the users, the toughs all shunned him. But those who wanted more gazed at him as to a lighthouse. For them, Walter Lomax was always there. The time, the day, the season did not matter. All day, he taught English classes, focusing on understanding the classics of literature. In late afternoon, he taught an elective in philosophy for those highly motivated students who sought a deeper understanding of man and of life. They studied Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and Locke, preparing their minds for life beyond the neighborhood in which they were raised. Expounding in his 12th grade English class on the works of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, he’d answered a hostile question in calm tones. “No, they didn’t grow up in the projects. But they were human beings and so are we. I know that and you know that. Many white men and women know it, too.” He could deny neither the blank stares he received nor the angry ones. But he also would not deny the few eager ones.

“The 800 on your verbal PSAT was outstanding, son. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

“Combined with your articles for the school paper, it will show the colleges how serious you are about a writing career.”

Walker nodded.

“Thinking of any visits?”

Walker smiled inwardly. For two days he’d wanted to share the news and had merely waited to be asked. “I’ve received permission to visit Harvard, Mr. Lomax.”

The English teacher said nothing for a long time. Then he smiled as he had at his daughter’s birth. All he said was: “You have the money, Walker? Your grandparents can swing it?”

“No, sir,” Walker whispered. “They work six days a week just to pay the bills. Won’t let me work. Say I got to concentrate on school.”

Lomax nodded. “What weekend they invite you?”

“The 27th and 28th.”

“Damn,” the teacher cursed softly. “That’s the one weekend I’m not free. Got a class in Queens.”

Walker said nothing. He knew that the teacher spent at least one weekend a month putting on SAT clinics in every corner of the city, for rich kids or poor, and that he charged only what a family could afford—which sometimes was nothing.

“How much will it cost?”

Walker calculated. “Round trip bus fare, two nights in a motel, meal money, it would be at least three hundred. Might as well be three hundred thousand.”

The teacher regarded him thoughtfully. “You ever been out of New York, son?”

“Yes, sir,” Walker answered proudly. “My grandparents took me to visit family in North Carolina. Twice. Rode the bus back once by myself.”

“Yeah, I believe it. You could handle it.”

The teacher thought it over for just a moment. Then he reached for the checkbook in his briefcase and examined the balance.

“Walker, I’ll have the money for you tomorrow,” he said softly.

“Oh no, sir, I couldn’t take it –“

“It’s a loan. You’ll pay me back in twenty years when you’re an established writer. So keep it away from Reggie G.A.N.G.”

At Harvard, Walker visited the English Department and the Comparative Literature program. He spoke with two Journalism professors. He spent hours at the Widener Library, browsing through a number of American classics, paying particular attention to several of Jack London’s, especially to the character of Humphrey van Weyden in The Sea Wolf. He spoke briefly with the Academic Dean and at length with the Financial Aid office. He explored every nook and cranny of the campus. He knew he could get into Harvard and he knew he could graduate. That his father had been shot to death and his mother had run off with the shooter did not deter him. That nobody in his family had ever attended college did not daunt him. Rather, the haunting memory of the Brooklyn funeral—with the minister’s pitying look at the eight-year-old orphan, and the whispered comments that there was now no hope for the boy—had only fueled his resolve. He’d loved books from the day, at age four, that his grandmother had first taught him to read. He’d scoured the local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library at ages six through eight, badgering the librarian with questions, poring over every battered volume that he could heft home. He delighted especially in stories—real or fictitious—of individuals going places, stories of bold adventurers who explored uncharted territory or discovered new knowledge. He reveled in the biographies of Pasteur, Magellan and Marie Curie; was inspired by the lives of Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King; and startled his second grade classmates when, in answering his teacher’s question regarding his love of books, had solemnly stated, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.” No, surviving Cambridge would pose no difficulty. It was surviving somewhere else that was the problem.

It was at the end of his last day, as he walked the corridors of Emerson Hall, musing on James, Santayana and the other great thinkers of the university’s past, that the answer struck him—not like a bolt from the sky, but as an inevitable consequence of his reflections. Not all first-class minds, he thought, were as open as Harvard philosophy professors.

Reggie H.A.R.D. glowed with the contentment that comes only from a productive week-end. On Friday night, he had shaken down several of the local heist artists. On Saturday, the result of several weeks of hard planning, he and The Posse had taken down the goons of a successful loan shark, then mugged him after a profitable day. But the piece de resistance had come on Sunday when in an orchestrated effort, he had masterminded assaults on four separate drug dealers up and down Gates Avenue. The take had been ripe.

“Plunder!” he had boomed to his homies as they divvied the swag at their cellar headquarters in the Marcy Avenue projects. Allocating, per usual, 67 percent of the booty to himself, staring at his posse, he achieved what some might previously have thought to be a physical impossibility: he glowered and smiled at the same time. “We be pillagers par excellence!” he had roared to a roomful of blank faces.

After a full hour of outlining the activities of the following week, he had given The Posse the next twenty-four hours off. As a successful entrepreneur, he knew better than to overwork his labor force. Then, alone with the night, he had switched off the lights and gloated over the week-end’s results. It was good, he thought, to be a high achiever. He stretched in the La-Z-Boy recliner he used for a personal throne, a piece of merchandise donated by the local furniture dealer in partial payment for Reggie’s professional assistance with a sextet of hoods foolish enough to run a protection racket along Gates Avenue. His massive frame fit snugly into the plush chair, aided by the fact that Reggie never, under any circumstances, carried a gun. “You got to admire a man loves to work with his hands,” a bystander had said of Reggie’s work in the school yard early in his career, and he had adopted the phrase for his personal motto. For that reason and that the butt of a nine-millimeter distracted attention from the symmetry of his physique. “Paraphernalia only de-tracts from perfection, sly,” he had replied to an admiring female who’d asked. He kicked back now, hands behind his head, and smiled. He remembered the countless hours spent hefting iron, chiseling his current proportions. He laughed aloud at the carefully-wrought legend of Reggie H.A.R.D., who had killed two dozen men with his hands. Like many of the tales he study behind locked doors—of Hercules, Odysseus, Lancelot—it have no basis in fact. But the homeboys not know. No be allowed to. Truth be bad for business. It was gratifying, he mused, that threats from Gargantua could be so effective. He flexed, enjoying the feel of resistance from the chair’s upholstery.

What was the story? He tried to remember. Gargantua had been so big, his mother had carried him for eleven months? That was it. He chuckled softly. He’d have to work that one into his own myth. No one discover his plagiarism. The chumps be so slow, they not read Rab-a-lay. And the smoke he blew had all their eyes blurred. No one suspect his secret. He glowed internally with the sense of his superiority. But then he stiffened. In a few minutes he’d head to his crib, to his weights and his squeeze. He have to make sure no one ever do suspect it. His wiggles the only ones with the pro-hib-i-ted information. They know his apartment. They know the stacks in the spare bedroom, even though he keep the door locked. It was why he swear them, under threat of their lives, to tight-lipped secrecy. They not talk. They not dare. They best not. Or there be howls of laughter up and down Gates Avenue. Reggie set his jaw. Then a few cans of whup-ass be opened, and a herd of toothless brothers yammer for bridgework and drink their food with a straw. For real.

On his first day back from Cambridge, Walker sauntered boldly down Gates Avenue. He did not sneak around like usual, he did not leave his books at home or at school, nor did he try to hide them. Rather, for several days he dragged back and forth every bulky text he could carry. On the third day, when a silver Lexus pulled up alongside him, he stopped, his breath caught in his chest. For a moment, nothing happened. Then the rear doors opened on either side and two toughs stepped into the street. The window whisked down on the front passenger side, revealing the mirthless grin of Reggie H.A.R.D. “How you schoolboy ass groove my ride, hole?”

Walker took a deep breath as he eyed the two Posse members idling near the car’s trunk. The hard objects outlined under their sweatshirts were, for several seconds, all he could see. Then he tore his gaze away.

“The name’s Hump—remember?” he said quietly, and started toward the car.

“Hump-free van Wy-den,” the Posse members grinned broadly, but did not take their eyes from Walker’s slight figure as he advanced.

“A Lexus, huh? Dealing drugs is profitable, is it, Reggie?”

Reggie H.A.R.D. laughed and swung easily out of the car, leaving only his driver inside. Though it was November, he wore a maroon tank top that read “Champion’s Pride” in black letters. He had on tapered basketball shorts that had been out of style for ten years, with low-cut socks and high-tops. Muscles bulged like ropes in his arms, chest and legs, and Walker couldn’t spot an ounce of fat on him.

“Dealing drugs is profitable, ain’t it,” he asked, and the homeboys snickered, as if at an inside joke to which Walker was not privy.

Before he could take another step forward, Reggie’s underlings seized the books from his arms and at a nod from their leader, flung them over their heads to land spread-eagled in the gutter.

“How I school you, puss, ’bout trucking grammar in my yard?”

Walker waited a second as his glance took in the grins on the faces of the goons. His heart was so loud that he heard it in his ears more than felt it in his chest. “I’m going to Harvard, Reggie,” he said softly.

“Say what, fem? You ass be going to Greenwood.”

The Posse members snickered at mention of the Brooklyn cemetery, and suddenly one of the thugs had a nine-millimeter in his hand.

“You can’t stop me from getting –“

“Snag it, flag it and bag it,” Reggie said. “That mean ‘shut up.’ Any last words?”

Walker took a deep breath, but it didn’t help. All he could see was the automatic. “How do I speak the last words if I shut up?”

He could hear the trembling in his own voice, and the rigidity of his muscles was so great that he was rooted in this tracks as the goon reversed the gun and raked the butt across his cheek. He felt the blood on his chin an instant after the blinding pain.

“Any humor in this situation,” Reggie said, “I the one inter-ject it.”

The pain made the muscle twitch above his jaw-line, but the anger that followed provided the courage to carry on his plan. “That’s an affront,” Walker said, his tongue thick in his mouth. “I demand satisfaction.”

The hoods laughed softly.

“Don’t worry,” Reggie said. “You be getting satisfaction.”

“No! I get the choice of weapons.”

“There be no choice of weapons, Faye. I not duel you Sabatini-reading ass.”

Walker could barely breathe, but he knew his only chance was to bait the big man. “You read Sabatini, Reggie? What’s your favorite? Scaramouche, The Sea Hawk—The Black Swan, maybe?”

For one second, a worried look flashed through the gang leader’s eyes, then he quickly controlled himself. “Reggie not be read—“ but Walker didn’t let him finish.

“Why not duel me? You’re so bad, you could beat me with any weapon I name.”

“I not bad, I terrible, sly. I beat you like a year-old jury summons.”

“With any weapon?”

“With sticks, bricks or dicks, Virg. Care to try me?”

“Yes!” the word leaped from Walker’s lips without the slightest hesitation.

But neither did Reggie hesitate. With his left hand, he seized a fistful of Walker’s shirt and hoisted him three feet off the deck, letting his legs dangle in space. “What weapons, May? Guns, knives, fists?”

“Pens,” Walker choked, and the grins on the thugs’ faces vanished.

But Reggie didn’t blink. Dragging Walker’s weight like an ungainly backpack, the gang leader rummaged through Walker’s belongings until he unearthed a red ball-point, which he uncapped and thrust in his victim’s face. “I rip out the nostrils first afore I ever get to the eyes. Save these for last, Meg.”

“No,” Walker gasped with Reggie’s hand still firmly clutching his shirt. “I challenge you to an essay-writing contest.”

For a moment there was utter silence in the street. “Ess-say writing?” For one second the homeboys looked at Walker as if he had just landed from Jupiter. Then the automatics were pointed at his head. “Less nine his scarecrow ass right here.”

Reggie laughed in simple pleasure. “We not require bang,” he said, and with one hand shook Walker’s frame until his bones rattled. “What you say, scrawn’? The bloods favor increased body weight. Achieved a’ course by injection of numerous lead pro-ject-tiles. You frowning at Reggie, Flo?”

By wriggling inside his shirt, Walker managed to get an inch of leeway for his chest. “Essays,” he breathed out. “On The Sea Wolf and Martin Eden. Specifically, on the intellectual development of atavistic physical specimens in the novels of Jack London.”

The hoods gaped at what was, to them, another language. But, Walker noticed, Reggie grew instantly attentive, his eyes wary. Then a grin started to crease his face, though he fought to hold it back. “You be dropping science on us, Liz? Ed-u-cating our poor sorry ghetto asses?”

Before Walker could squeeze out a reply, one of the thugs cocked his gun and ground the barrel into the victim’s left eye socket. “Less spray this oreo mother’s brains.”

But, gently, Reggie forced the gun away from Walker’s face. “Whoa, Wyatt, what I say? Waist the steel.” He looked at the student with unconcealed disgust. “What you know about ay-ta-vist-ics, June?

“Not much,” Walker admitted. “But I do know sufficient biology to recognize specimens of Cro-Magnon man when I see them.”

“What he say?” the Posse members asked.

Reggie snickered. “Ay-ta-vist-ics, my man. You got no pencil?” When the goons looked at Reggie as if he’d spoken Japanese, the big man continued. “The reversion of seemingly-advanced life forms to more primitive types.”

Walker ignored the bug-eyed stares the gang leader received from his followers. Momentarily, his heart leaped, though he said nothing.

Reggie turned back to him. “Who be grading these ay-ta-vist-ic writings, Pam?”

“Mr. Lomax. He’s my –“

“We knows the sucker. He the Es-Ay-Tee man. The do-good mother drive around the ‘hood in a sorryass Volkswagen.”

Even though held off the ground at arm’s length, Walker could feel his indignation rise. He’s the best –“

Reggie cut him off by swinging him side-to-side, then dumping him in a heap. “He the best thirty-a-year public servant, Sam?” he spat. “I makes that a week. And don’t slave the white man.”

Walker felt the taste in his mouth turn into vinegar. “Then you won’t –“

Reggie grinned. “’Course I will. Think Reggie get a chance to play Tom every day? Next week we drop ay-ta-vist-ics on you weasel ass. Tell Mr. Sir-With-Love, he not crowning you, he be drowning you. I lets the homies pump shells on you then.” He grinned. “Might do it anyway. Go with Goddamn, Sam.”

He snapped his fingers, and he and his two minions got back into the Lexus. Before they pulled away, one of the hoods looked at his leader. “You ass be reading words?” Walker heard Reggie laugh. “We find us a bookworm nigger.” They drove off, leaving Walker and his books splattered across the gutter.

But Reggie wasn’t spotted along Gates Avenue for several days, and when acquaintances asked his latest wiggle where he was, she said only, “In the apartment.” She refused to say doing what.

It was a mere five days after he’d issued the challenge that Mr. Lomax showed Walker the sealed envelope that had been overnighted to the school. It was addressed to: “Professor Sir-With-Love Lomax.”

“Well, he doesn’t waste time, does he?” Walker said.

“In his line of work, he’s a busy man. How’s your essay coming?”

“I’ll finish it tonight, sir.”

Walker had read both books involved more than once, and the following morning at four, when he put the finishing touches on his essay, he smiled. He knew he had the writing sample that he would need for Harvard’s Admission Department.

But three days later, when Mr. Lomax called him at home on a Sunday afternoon, he could tell by the teacher’s voice that he was worried.

“Walker, you want to get over here right away?”

When Walker arrived, they went immediately into the teacher’s den.

“I’ve been grading these essays all morning.”

“And?”

“And yours is excellent, son. Outstanding. Perhaps the best piece of analytical writing I’ve seen from you yet. But . . . “

“But Reggie’s is better, sir?”

The teacher looked away, staring out the window, puzzled. “I don’t know who he got to write it for him. I can’t imagine who he bought.”

Walker tried to look disconsolate. “Well, money talks, sir. Teachers don’t make much. Perhaps he bribed an English professor at Brooklyn College.”

Walter Lomax shook his head. “I’ve known thugs like him. They could live around the corner from a college, but to them it’s another universe. They don’t think like that.”

Walker could feel a triumphant grin starting to crease his face, but he quickly erased it. “Well, Mr. Lomax, I don’t know then.”

“Come here, look at this.” He shoved the paper into Walker’s hands. “It’s where he shows that London’s own conception of Wolf Larsen as a Nietzschean ‘ubermensch’ is mistaken, because of Nietzsche’s utter rejection of materialism—that’s where this paper is extraordinary. That and where he argues that the Humphrey van Weyden character, in his growing self-assertiveness, is the true ‘ubermensch’—because the positive, life-affirming use of his intellect makes him akin to Socrates, Michaelangelo and Goethe —here also, his analysis is simply brilliant. And yet, there are occasions where he makes obvious, even crude grammatical errors, almost as if he had very little formal schooling and was self-educated. It’s strikingly anomalous, given the understanding of Nietzsche—never mind London—this displays.”

But Walker hadn’t even heard his teacher’s last few sentences. “Humphrey van Weyden as the truly superior man?” he mused aloud.

But the teacher missed his meaning. “Walker,” he said softly. “I have no hard evidence of cheating. If I’m to be fair, Reggie’s essay has to win. There’s a return address on his package. I’ll get word to the bastard.”

Walker nodded.

“But if Reggie wins the duel, what happens to you?”

“I’ll be all right, Mr. Lomax. I think Reggie’ll want to keep me around so he can gloat.”

But for days he saw no sign of Reggie. Gates Avenue and the surrounding streets were quiet, and the silver Lexus was not to be seen.

“Guess Reggie’s got to catch up on his profit-making activities,” he said to Mr. Lomax.

But when the days became weeks, and the weeks more than a month, Walker stopped wondering. His hours were filled with classes, studying and editorials for the paper—and though, from the corner of his eyes, he still watched the street as he walked, his grim memories were slowly fading over time.

It was already January—and he was making plans to convince his grandparents to allow him to work that summer in a bookstore in the city—before he had any further trouble on the street. But this time it was not on Gates Avenue, it was around the corner from school, six blocks away.

He was hurrying home in late afternoon with an idea for a thesis paper on Crime and Punishment in his Advanced Placement class. The light was fading as the winter evening came on, but there was no mistaking the two shadows that stepped in front of him. He looked up, half in alarm, half in expectation, but was disappointed. He didn’t know them. He tried to step around them, but one of the punks grabbed him around the throat and jerked him back. “’S’up, cous’?”

One was tall, in green Army fatigues and boots; the other was medium height, in denim and running shoes. Both were gangly, with a drawn, emaciated look that smacked of malnutrition. The light shining in their eyes was not from love of wisdom. The tall one applied pressure, trying to force Walker to the ground, Walker resisted.

“Don’t hurt yourself now, schoolboy. You dressed so fine—Dockers and Sebagos and all—we just here to share your finances, is all.”

Walker tried to call for help, but the hand around his throat tightened, throttling him, and all that came out was a wet, gurgling sound that had no force to carry. They had him on his back when a middle-aged woman stepped out of a bodega fifty feet down the street. Looking up, she saw the mugging taking place in front of her. “Call the police!” she shouted back into the store. But when one of the thugs got up and started for her, she turned and ran.

The taller hood had Walker’s wallet in his hands and riffed through it quickly, seizing the cash. He threw the empty wallet down when it contained only four singles. “This buy us nothing, yo. Where you money at?”

Walker could barely breathe. Dimly, he heard the slamming of a car door at what sounded like a distance. He shook his head. “Got no money. That’s it.”

“Best have money, nigger. I cut your head off.”

He pulled a hard metallic object from his pocket. The spring of the opening blade was all Walker could hear. But as the edge descended toward his face, he heard a familiar voice.

“Sorryass, librarian nigger. Thought I school you better.”

The two hoods turned quickly, and Walker looked up. A massive figure towered over them, dressed in only tank top and nylon sweatpants despite the January evening.

“This don’t concern you, Reggie,” one of the thugs said. “Step off, money.”

Reggie H.A.R.D. laughed softly, a rich sound of genuine amusement, as if enjoying the limited comprehension of a child. “All oh-curr-ences in the ‘hood concerns Reggie. I the mayor, sis.”

Slowly the muggers stood and warily backed off. “Don’t want no trouble with you, Reggie.”

The big man swaggered forward easily, light as a gymnast on his feet, despite his hulking frame. “Got trouble with me, belle. How we dance?”

“We be leaving, Reggie. We gone, bro. No hard feelings.”

Reggie shook his head. “Ain’t the law of the sea, Jill. Big fish eats the little fish. You the little fish.” He smiled widely, revealing a gleaming row of white teeth. “I the shark.”

“He the bait, Reggie,” the knife-wielder cried desperately, pointing at Walker. “He a ‘sorry-Charlie-Tuna’ mother! Eat him.”

The smile vanished from Reggie’s face. “He going to Harvard,” he said softly. “You going to Graveyard. You dropout mothers spell ‘de-ceased’?”

Immediately the desperate looks of the muggers grew grim. The shorter one stepped in and, an instant later, the knife-wielder lunged forward. The big man ignored the first and, twisting sideways, raised his left leg till it was parallel to the ground and drove it with all the force of two hundred and forty pounds into his victim’s chest. The mugger crumpled like a bank had toppled on him. His companion turned and fled, but was quickly run down by members of The Posse. They dragged him back to Reggie.

The big man seized a mugger in each hand and shook until their bones rattled. When he stopped, they lay limp in his hands. He waited until their eyes opened. “Got our eyes on this boy,” he said softly. “Reason I lets you stroll. Spreads the word through the ‘hood. Hear?”

They nodded. When he let them go, they staggered on their feet, unable to walk.

“I catch you—or any nigger—messing my boy, you have Reggie’s boot so far up you ass we be running a three-legged race to the hospital.” He stopped, waiting for the glazed look to pass from their eyes. “It be natural see-lec-tion, lame. You too dumb to remain the gene pool. Reggie be passing on his badass genes.”

As the muggers limped off, Walker’s breathing returned to normal. He pulled himself to a sitting position. “That the frothing of the yeast, Wolf?”

“Shh, don’t be opening you geek-ass mouth to spread no word.”

Walker smiled. “Can’t have people knowing, can we? How long you going to stay in the closet?”

“Reggie got hisself a big-ass closet.” He waved his arm vaguely to include the entire neighborhood. “Cap-ay-cious, Sue. Include all his activities.”

Walker didn’t answer, but concentrated on the difficult effort of getting to his feet. Then a sudden thought occurred to him. “Natural selection, Reggie? Only the smart survive? Who’s dropping science now?”

Reggie turned and motioned the gang members back to the car. At the door to the front passenger side, he stopped and faced Walker. “Yo, Jane, the mind be a terrible thing to waste.”

He eased into the car and gently closed the door. Slowly, the silver Lexus disappeared into the dusk.


Andrew Bernstein is Executive Director of the newly-founded Center for the Study of Capitalism at Appalachian State University in North Carolina and is the author of numerous works on philosophy and literature. He also recently completed his first novel, Heart of a Pagan.