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Boy Kills Man
By Matt Whyman
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2006 Matt Whyman
All right reserved.
"Believe me, nothing is more unsettling in this world than a kid with a gun." That's what the boss says whenever he introduces me to people. I've never found myself on the wrong side of a piece, not for real. Then again, I suppose you could say I'm the kind of kid people fear.
"An adult is aware of the consequences," he'll continue, so softly you almost have to hold your breath in case you miss something. "He's likely to hesitate before pulling the trigger, or scale down the hit and just scare the sucker instead. A boy doesn't think like that. You give him a job, he'll get it done, no question. Why?" He always pauses here (or pats me on the head if I'm standing right beside him). "Because a boy is aware of the consequences if he doesn't see it through."
My boss has the quietest voice you ever heard. Some say that it sounds like a deathly whisper, which is why he is known as El Fantasma -- The Ghost. It also means that when he speaks, everybody listens. I need a gun in my hand before I can earn the same attention, or some money wrapped up in a band. The first time I told my mother that she no longer needed to go out each night to work, she just blinked at me. It didn't matter how many times I said I could take care of things, my presence in the apartment was all she seemedto take in.
Things changed once she had time to think. Now if I place some cash on the table, Mama clutches her forehead with one hand and blames herself for all kinds of things. If Uncle Jairo is in earshot, then he'll get involved too. My uncle has bad lungs, which is why he's always so frustrated and short-tempered. He reminds her I'm thirteen this year, almost a man. If I'm so smart and wise with words like he's always hearing, then why hadn't she sacrificed everything to keep me off the streets, huh? So shut up for once, he'll spit, and let your son repay us for bringing him up. Sometimes Mama will start wailing, which makes him scream bad things at her before panicking because he's mislaid his inhaler. By then I can't even remember the point she'd been trying to make. El Fantasma wouldn't allow things to get out of hand like that. He always has complete control of any situation, whether he's scolding his guards or telling a funny story. He would make a great coach, I think. Give him eleven men, and within a season he'd shape them up into God's own team.
The boss has always known me as Shorty. It's something I got called one time, and annoyingly it stuck like gum to a shoe. It just doesn't suit any position on the pitch, you know? If Shorty were in goal, you'd simply aim high to get the ball in the back of the net. Place the little guy in defense, or midfield, it would be a question of using your legs to outrun him. I suppose it doesn't sound so bad for an attacking player, but not as proud and formidable as Sonny, my real name. A memorable striker needs no surname, and Sonny just says it all.
. . . the ball swings up to Sonny, and the crowd are on their feet! The whole of Medellin are behind him. He's passed one, two, and he shoots. . . .
It was Papa who named me, two months before I was born. I'm told he was utterly convinced that he would have a son. My mother claims he even described how I would look as I grew up. According to her, he hasn't been wrong so far. If this is true, he must also have been aware that he would never see his predictions made flesh. All I know for sure is that Papa had to leave home in a hurry, though nobody ever explained why. It could've been the cops were after him, or maybe the cartel. I've learned not to ask anymore. It just makes people angry -- or sad. Either way, it must have taken a lot of courage, saying good-bye to his wife and unborn child. Only a brave man could make that kind of sacrifice. I just hope he foresaw that I would inherit his great courage.
. . . Gooooaaaallllll!!!!!!
El Fantasma shares my passion for soccer as well as for Nacional. I heard he is on personal terms with the trainer there, and has a seat in a bulletproof box. The boss can handle a ball, too, even if he is a little chubby in the face and waist. He likes to play with one touch, just like our national side. Some say it's an arrogant style, but if the team plays as one, it can be deadly.
"Always keep the ball moving," he tells me. "You can't afford to give the opposition time to react. If the dust has settled and you still have possession, you're in trouble."
Alberto played a very different style. If my best friend won the ball, which he often did without waiting for a pass, you could be sure he wouldn't give it up. Instead, he would thunder for the box, and nobody dared get in his way. Players sometimes stepped aside for him, just as they did for El Fantasma, but this was because Alberto was built like a bull. I used to think he charged in all the time because he was too ashamed to call out for the ball. You would expect a kid our age to squeak a bit, but Alberto had it bad. For a boy who looked like he should growl and grumble, it could come as quite a shock.
"So what if my huevas haven't dropped yet?" he once piped up. "What matters is they're made of steel!"
Excerpted from Boy Kills Man by Matt Whyman Copyright © 2006 by Matt Whyman. Excerpted by permission.
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