All's fair in love and war

When Cuzzo and I got back to the apartment, one of The Elders had a new game for us to play.

I didn’t see any boards or game pieces anywhere, though.

“This is a different type of game, baby girl,” Cuzzo said. “One where we always get the bad guy. Remember your preschool friend? In this game we go after the bad guys that did that to him.”

I was intrigued.

The way Cuzzo put it, all I’d have to do in this game was stand outside, do nothing, and get the bad guys close enough for the VIPs to handle the rest.

We played this game once a week after church, while I was still dressed in my Sunday Best. Like Cuzzo said, all I did was stand outside while the creepers approached, one by one. The Elder who started this game and Cuzzo kept watch from windows overlooking the block while an ever-changing handful of our other “cousins” waited in a van around the corner.

When the creepers got within arm’s reach, it was on: the van full of fam sped around the corner, snatched the creeper up, duct-taped a bag over his head, dragged him into the van and sped off again down the block.

For months this happened, every Sunday after church. It was astonishing seeing those guys snatched up over and over again, like lemmings. Or a live-action movie. In fact, this other game was so much like watching a movie that, after a couple weeks of playing, I started directing it.

First, I took it upon myself to inform an approaching creeper what was about to go down.

“You’re about to die,” I said to him.

The creeper laughed and asked who taught me words like that.

I didn’t get a chance to answer before the van sped around the corner like clockwork and the creeper met his fate.

Within a week of starting this other game—maybe even a little before this new game had begun—Cuzzo and I established such a connection that we were speaking to each other without using words. He’d think something and I’d feel it, and vice versa.

One Sunday I was standing there catching creepers when, out of nowhere, this feeling of extreme boredom washed over me. It wasn’t a feeling I immediately recognized, especially while playing a game. I looked up at Cuzzo peering through the blinds. Our eyes met and he nodded.

I told a standby VIP sitting on the front stoop that if they really want to make this game fun, they should try switching up the kinds and colors of cars they use. As an added bonus, the cops can’t trace the activity (something everyone involved seemed especially concerned about) since a different car is used every week.

The VIP perked up and spread word to the others.

Next time I came over, The VIPs sped around the corner in a blue van instead of their usual black. Some weeks they rolled through in a full body pickup truck. My fave was when they used stolen luxury cars: Benzs, BMWs, Jags speeding down the block overflowing with saviors and foes.

After that, grown folks in the neighborhood started coming up to me, giving me a dollar or two “for my service.” My mom always taught me not to accept gifts from strangers. But Cuzzo always taught me to Get Money, so I channeled him for a second opinion.

After playing that other game the following Sunday, I asked one guy who came up to me how much he was willing to bet I’d catch this one creeper we kept hearing about on the block… and it was a hell of a lot more than a dollar. The next person who came up, a very sweet old lady The Elders told me was heavily involved in the church there, bet her rent money I’d catch him. Others bet $20 here, $50 there. By the time I turned seven, I was making $100 a week just standing there and doing nothing.

Cuzzo always told me what I great job I was doing, helping the kids in the community. By keeping these bad guys off the streets and making money, we were doing A Good Thing, he said.

I told him this game was too easy.

“I tell them to their face they’re gonna die and they still fall for it. Weird people give me their money to see creepers killed every week.”

Cuzzo nodded knowingly. “It’s their nature,” he said.

He paused for a moment, sensing something was amiss.

“If you want out, you know what to do.”

I walked up to The Elder who started this other game and told her I could stand outside and catch all the creepers they wanted, but I’m still not catching the ones into boys.

She paused for a moment. Then she called the other Elders over, excitement in her voice.

She told the others that I was an angel. She used my age at the time and the fact that Cuzzo and I could talk without words as proof. The fact that I could play such a dangerous game and emerge unscathed—plus the amount of money I brought in—was further proof, according to this Elder.

The others formed a circle around me, staring in awe and talking among themselves in whispers. I felt indifferent about the matter and didn’t understanding all the fuss surrounding it. All I knew was I made it out of this other game a winner with big bank.

From then on, any business I had was conducted indoors, just like Cuzzo and The Elders.

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