I’m just finishing up proofreads of Box of Rain and thought I would share this scene about Booker in action at the break dance battle his cousin Shorty set up in an effort to win some money to pay off a debt.
Wobble by V.I.C. jammed so loud Shorty’s ass couldn’t stop bouncing to the beat. The sound drowned out the pellets of rain falling on the aluminum canopy overhead. He could barely see anything in the dark beyond the ring of light aimed between two lines of broken down gas pumps. In the background, white like a ghost with plywood eyes and graffiti for a mouth, the empty Shell station was the only sign there had ever been prosperity anywhere nearby.
The neighborhood was mostly abandoned, the three-block radius about the only place in Chicago considered neutral territory. Which is why tonight’s crowd consisted of a mix of college stiffs, street kids, gang bangers of all affiliations, and the occasional shifty-eyed pervert.
The whole crowd pressed close to the performers. Everyone rolled with the music like scum on waves of water. With a scuffle and jump that set off a roar of approval, the new kid hopped off the square of cardboard to give Booker T his shot at pleasing the audience. Booker started off with a tail-feather shake that earned whistles from the ladies in the front.
“Go T! You can beat him.” Shorty leaned way in like his shoulders could help his cousin win the battle. He turned to Vato, standing next to him. “Better ante up, if you in. Or it be too late to shit in the pot.” He motioned to the scrawny ten-year-old waiting to take their bets over to the banker.
The dark eyes turned on him and Shorty felt a twinge in his gut where he’d taken the worst blow the night before.
The girl Vato had brought with him, in a short skirt and makeup so thick she looked like she was in drag, leaned close and rubbed Vato’s arm. “You sure, baby?” Her voice sounded as sickly sweet as melting cotton candy. “You dance better than either of those clowns.”
Vato ignored her and handed the kid the cash. “You remember what I tell you before, yes?” he told Shorty. “Your boy no win, you lose, too. More than money, understand?”
“Lose? T ain’t gonna lose. Look how he’s slapping that board, man.”
He tried to sound more confident that he felt. He’d seen his cousin shake it dozens of times before and he could tell something was off. Booker seemed to be favoring his one ankle, and had not yet made some of his best moves.
Vato must have noticed it too. When Booker gave ground to his rival and stepped back, Vato shook his head and said, “The other gringo is good, very good.”
Shorty blew out a snort of disgust. “He got no moves at all compared to my boy T there.”
Still, there was a stitch between his shoulder blades as he watched. Just another round to go and it was over. The competition did an aerial cartwheel and turned the floor over to Booker again, but instead of showing how he could flip even higher than the other guy—usually his best move—Booker started a series of flares and floats and windmills. Nothing that would put pressure on that bad leg he seemed to have.
Shorty’s throat felt so tight he thought he was going to choke. Glancing left and right from the edges of his vision, he looked for a clear spot to run if he had to when this was over. Then someone yelled “Yeah, man! Go!”
Booker had the crowd whooping with joy with his last spin and backward bronco jump, bouncing to a halt on the balls of his feet with a limp but also a grin wide as a trucker’s ass-crack. Money started changing wallets, Booker’s arm was lifted by someone in the crowd, and the loser shook hands with a good word about it being a kick-ass run.