“Alright guys...” said Sheen Estevez, 19 years old, and facing yet another “victory lap” of High School. He watched his two friends cast fleeting, uninterested glances at him. “If we don’t leave, Melvick’s gonna call the cops.” He took a drag from his cigarette and held it in, waiting for a reply.
Both of Sheen’s (only) friends seemed indifferent to his remark, and even despite Carl’s severe phobia of policemen and prison, hardwired into his brain by fifteen years of subtle operant conditioning by his mother, he didn’t stir. Instead, Carl’s hands started for his rear pocket, where his asthma inhaler was, basically admitting that he wasn’t going to answer, and Jim had his eyes glued to the screen of his smartphone. At least Carl came up with an excuse, Sheen thought. He would have slapped Jim on the back of his neck and told him to answer, but he decided against it. If he slapped Jim, then he would probably drop his phone, and then he would bitch about it for the next week, so he left the boy alone.
Plus, if he slapped Jim, then he would lose the opportunity to enjoy the cartoonish scowl on his face permanently.
Sheen took a deep breath, savouring the last remnants of smoke he had left in his mouth, and flicked away his stub. He made sure to crush it into the sidewalk. Mr. Melvick fucking hated it when he had to clean up ash stains, but it certainly made for a pretty funny time when one had a good seat in the bushes across the road and could watch the short, chubby old man cuss 1950’s swear words every time his arthritis made his joints crack.
“Yeah, Jimmy,” Carl said in a strained, tight voice. His inhaler always made him tense up afterwards, because of the "bad taste," so said Carl. “I...I don’t think that Sponge’s gonna show up.” Carl pushed his glasses higher up on his nose.
Jim shook his head, and turned the screen on his phone off. “Not possible, Carl,” he said as he flipped up the collar on his jacket. “He swore on his mother’s life that he’d show up.”
“What?! Jimmy, you know that that’s bullshit—”
“No, it’s not! I have proof!” Jim snapped. Sheen took a cautious step backwards. Jim had a long fuse, longer than most. He wasn't an easy guy to piss off. But even men with long fuses had their limits of how long they were willing to wait for their druggie friend to show up, and for Jim, that limit was fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes, Jim Neutron was done.
Sponge was half-an-hour late at this point.
“Jimmy, think about it! When’s he ever actually done anything except ‘blaze four-twenty’? He’s probably getting high with that that fatass and his bitch right now! That's the facts!”
Sheen started laughing—hysterically, might I add—but that didn’t stop the argument. Not that he was trying to ease tensions, or anything. When Carl got angry, he got… let’s say colourful with his curses.
“Carl I—okay, first of all,” Jim said, turning to Sheen, “Sheen, please shut the fuck up—and second,” Jim turned back to Carl, poking a finger in his face. “I know he’s not smoking because he let me take some collateral as assurance of his appearance.”
Carl scoffed and looked over his shoulder at some birds who had abruptly taken flight. Jim dug his hand into his right pocket and pulled out a small, leather rectangle with a knitted pattern on it. The pattern looked like a jellyfish, in a way.
“The fuck is that?” Sheen asked.
Jim looked proud of himself as he replied. “It's Bob’s wallet ! Now he has to show up to get it back!”
“Isn't that, like, extortion?” Carl said, easing into his words the way one would wade into a freezing cold lake.
“What?” Jim chuckled, “ No ! He gave it to me! That’s legal, I think.”
“Well, at least we know he’s just late,” Sheen said in his Matter-Of-Fact voice. He stood up from the wall and started walking towards the road. He stopped when the tips of his Converse hung over the edge of the sidewalk. “Now all we gotta worry about is where the eff is that porous bas—”
A loud baritone, followed by the shout, “Gangway, niggers!” Made Sheen leap back three feet from the road, trip on his heels, and land flat on his ass. The car whose horn the baritone noise belonged to swerved around the corner a second after, its entire chassis bouncing up and down when the tires on the left side of the vehicle rolled up onto the curb. Sitting inside, nearly hidden behind a thick pane of tinted glass, sat a yellow sponge dressed in a light black sweater and an easygoing smile on his face.
Robert Kenny. “Sponge.” Called so because of his ability to receive things, such as money or dope, and somehow not use them up. He hadn’t worked a day in almost a year at this point, so far as Sheen knew.
Sponge rolled down the window, waiting for Jim to get close enough so he could blow his vapour into his face. Jim staggered backwards, hacking and coughing while he waved his hand madly in front of his face to clear the air. Sponge laughed his high-pitched, rolling laugh, and stepped out of the car, half-smoked joint in hand. Sheen couldn’t see from outside the car, but stuck to the folds of his sweater were the remains of whatever he had put in his roach to “spice things up”.“You guys seem a liiiiiitle upset,” he spoke slowly, while the most punchable smile Sheen had ever seen in his life crawled onto his face.
“Yeah,” Carl said, “because we’ve been waiting two fuckin’ hours for your pansy-ass!”
Jim stopped coughing his lungs out and stepped back over to where Sponge stood, hand once again digging into his pocket . “Yeah, man, what took so long?”
Sponge shrugged, as a door on the other side of the car opened. “Had to pick some things up. You know,” Sponge raised his shoulders and lowered his voice. “ Girl things.”
Jim blushed when Sheen replied, “Like sybians and shit?”
Carl blinked. “Hey, wait—the fuck is a ‘sybian’?”
Sheen laughed, and was soon joined in his schadenfreude by Sponge and Patrick, who had just now gotten out of the car. “Carl, duuude ! It’s like a fuckin’ horse saddle with a dick stickin’ up from it!”
Carl chuckled and shook his head. “Fuckin’ nasty, man.”
Sheen looked at Sponge. “Congrats on passing your driver’s test, by the way.”
“What?” Sponge said. “Dude, I can’t fuckin’ pass that shit! They won’t let me take it again for three more months.”
“But then why...were you ...driving...?” Sheen trailed off, deciding that it was better not to ask questions. Sponge was here (finally), and that was all that mattered.
Jim pulled out Sponge’s wallet and waved it in front of his face. “Okay, now, let’s get down to business—”
“TO DEFEAT/ THE HUN!!” Sponge and Patrick shouted in unison and fell back into another fit of rapid giggling. Jim rolled his eyes. Carl just stared at them, clearly not getting the joke. Sheen honestly felt like cutting his wrists again because of that comment, but this time going across the street.
“How much for fifty g’s?” Jim asked over his impromptu dealers’ laughter.
The second the sale was mentioned, the laughing stopped. Any trace of a smile vanished from both of their faces. Sheen actually shivered when he noticed how menacing the usually jolly and sweet Patrick looked when he was actually grimacing (something neither he nor his porous companion did often). “Why the fuck do you wanna know?” Patrick growled.
Jim almost took a step backward, and Sheen knew he wanted to—he saw his feet twitch. “I...I ju—”
Sponge laid a hand on his large friend’s shoulder, and the star eased back a bit. But only a bit. “I failed to mention to my friend here that we’d be selling today, but it’s cool.” Sponge patted Patrick on the shoulder twice before taking his hand off. “Chill out, dude. Chill out.
“Anyways,” he said, placing his joint in his teeth and shoving both of his hands into his pockets, “why d’y’need so much? I mean, I know size is subjective—”
“I think you mean art is subjective,” Jim interrupted.
“Yeah, right, whatever, but fifty g’s? That’s some serious shit there, Jimmy. As in, seeerious shit.”
“That’s like, fuck a guy baked we’re talking about here,” Patrick said slowly, as if he were saying some kind of warning.
Jim shifted his weight between his two feet, looking down. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that Jim had something planned. Something a little shifty; Sheen could see the face his brother made whenever he was about to go out “roofing” and their mother caught him on Jim so clearly it was like he Copy+Pasted it on there. The sight sent a shiver up his spine. “I…” Jim seemed to have trouble finding the words to say, something that didn’t happen often with someone as intelligent as Jimmy Neutron. “I was gonna go to this party tomorrow and Cindy said that she wanted to ‘widen her world’ or something, so I figured I’d buy her weed. I dunno. Girls’re complicated.” Jim finally said, letting out a light but horribly faked chuckle.
Sponge didn’t even crack a smirk.
“ And? ” Sponge raised his eyebrows and tilted his head down.
Jim gritted his teeth. His eyebrow furrowed, his hands balled into fists. But most noticeably of all, a beet-red blush spread across his face. “Why the fuck do you need to know?” Jim hissed.
“Non’a your business.” Sponge plucked the joint out of his mouth and pointed at Jim with it in between two of his fingers. “ ‘Cuz it’s just business . I like t’know where my fucking shit’s goin’.”
Patrick nodded in agreement. “And besides, if you an’ Miss Voertek are gonna do somethin’ legal with our product—such as smoking it, sharing that shit with your friends, or smoking it—then there shouldn’t be any problems about telling us what it—”
“Hey!” Came a grainy but strong voice to Sheen’s left. In their less-than-friendly discussion, both Sheen, his friends, and Sponge and Patrick had failed to hear the front door of Melvick’s shop open, and Melvick himself step out. “You kids get the hell off my porch! You’re scarin’ away my customers!”
“Sorry, Mr. Melvick!”
“Hey, Sam!” Sponge said. “How’s Winnie doin’?”
Mr. Melvick’s face softened upon hearing Sponge’s words, even going so far as to melt into a friendly smile. “She’s doin’ good! Feelin’ a lot better nowadays, thanks ta you!”
Sponge ‘pssh’ed and batted at hand at the air in front of him. “Just tryna help out! We’ll scram now!”
“Thanks, ya mook!” Melvick laughed as he stepped back inside and the door shut behind him. The casual-ness of Sponge’s brief conversation with Melvick made Sheen along with his friends raise both eyebrows. Carl’s jaw even slackened and fell open.
“What the fuck was that?” Carl said, sticking a weak finger at Sponge, who stuck his roach back into his mouth and motioned for Jim and his cohorts to follow him. “Melvick hates everybody! The guy probably hate-fucked his wife on their wedding night!”
“C’mon. I’ll tell you once we’re off Sam’s porch.”
Jim, Carl, and Sheen followed Sponge as he led them around his cumbersome vehicle and over to the opposite side of the road, where there was an alleyway between two apartment buildings that seemed made for this kind of business . There, Sponge shoved his hands in his pockets and performed his specialty: exhaling the marijuana smoke through the dozens of porous holes all over his body. “Y’see,” Sponge said with a grunt, as wispy white clouds of smoke wafted out of his holes, “Mrs. Melvick’s feelin’ a little sick nowadays, if you feel me.”
“The big L-K?” Jim said softly.
Sponge blinked. Patrick blinked. Sheen blinked. “The fuck izzat?” Patrick asked.
“Leukemia. Blood cancer.”
“Oh. Well, she doesn’t have that kind of cancer, but it’s still pretty fuckin’ nasty. Lung , I think,” Sponge said, rubbing his chin, trying to recall exactly which kind of monster was eating Winnie Melvick from the inside-out. “Anyways, Sam’s health insurance wouldn’t have let him buy medicinal weed from a lab—somethin’ about their ‘stout traditionalism’ or something, I dunno. But, seeing as how he didn’t want his precious wife in agonizing pain 24/7, he approached me about a little arrangement.”
“One where you sell him hash for a cheaper price than the growery would give him?” Jim said. The empathy in his eyes had left, now only a certain unfeeling stoniness remained. He was done feeling sorry for poor Mrs. Melvick. He had seen past the sob-story that Sponge was spinning and seen why he was spinning it. And it seemed like he didn’t like it.
“No, no. Of course not! what am I?” Sponge gestured to himself. “A crook? A hustler? A thief ? A dude willing to bleed a desperate old man dry just so his lil’ wife-y can feel marginally better for thirty minutes per gram? You’ve gotta check your privilege, nigga.” Sponge took the blunt out of his mouth and threw it to the ground. “Now, I believe you were inquiring about some OG dank?”
“Hey, wait,” Carl interrupted, “if you’re not selling Melvick weed on the cheap, then what’s your game? You’re not giving it for free are you?”
Sponge shook his head, an action repeated by his large compatriot. “I say again, of course not. Ever hear of Lend-Lease?”
“No,” Carl said, scratching the back of his head.
“Nah, I don’t do like, Geopolitics shit,” Sheen said.
“Wait,” Jim pondered out loud, his forefinger pressed to his lips in his usual “I’m thinking” gesture. “Isn’t that the agreement in World War Two where America gave England a bunch of guns and shit for nothing in return?”
“ You’re close, kimosabe ,” Patrick said in a deep, racist Native accent.
“They weren’t just givin’ away Shermans and Thompsons for free, Jimbo. The Lend-Lease Act stated that Britain would have to pay the U.S. back in full after the war for all the military equipment that they couldn’t return in working condition, which was basically…” Sponge inhaled abruptly, most likely wafting what remained of the bud he had discarded earlier, while Sheen waited in bated breath. “ All of it.”
After a short pause that felt much, much longer than it actually was, Carl spoke up first: “Okay, cool, but how’s that—?”
“Let me fucking finish, you stupid Yid!” Sponge snapped. Carl took a step back, as per his sheepish nature, but the expression that had flashed on the Wheezer boy’s face looked as if he wanted to tear the drug dealer’s eyes out. “Jesus fuck!
“Anyways, I’m lettin’ Melvick use my product totally free, for now. He knows that when he has no need for my services anymore, that he’ll have to pay the piper, i.e., me. ” A dopey grin slid across Sponge’s lips like a snail’s gait; slow, but consistently.
Sheen was still… how you say, totally fucking lost as to what Kenny’s hustle was when Jim gasped, and a look of disgust, fear, and shock combined shot onto his face like buckshot from a barrel. “You’re gonna—”
“Yep. When Winnie croaks, I think I can convince the poor, heartbroken old man to pay up much more than our initial deal required.” Sponge shrugged. His smile hadn’t changed, but to Sheen, it looked much more sinister than it had twenty seconds ago. “Pretty fuckin’ sweet, right?”
“Dude, that’s sick!” Jim spat in disgust. “You should be locked up!”
“Yeah, that ain’t right!” Sheen declared, and stepped up in front of Carl, so he was right behind Jim.
“Okay, Nerd-tron, First of all, I haven’t done anything wrong! I am following my side of our arrangement to the T. I haven’t changed it either, and I haven’t been giving him some fucking weak-ass Grade 9 ‘ I bought weed from the creepy guy out behind the 7/11 ’ Kush shit either, even though what I’ve been loaning him won’t exactly help Winnie’s condition all that much anyways, and secondly, your story of ‘ oh, me and Cindy are just gonna blaze, maybe make out a little, then pass the fuck out ’ doesn’t hold up too well once you take into account that shit you’ve got in your pocket.”
Jim’s eyes shot wide open. His arms froze. Sheen wasn’t sure if his heart was still beating. He looked like a frozen corpse. “You duh-don’t—”
Patrick sniffed that air and stepped forward, in front of Sponge, arms crossed across his impressively broad chest. “I can smell it from here. I think it spilled , Neutron.”
Jim’s right arm fidgeted—moving half an inch towards his pocket before stopping. Sheen knew it was a trick, a ploy, one Jim fell for. And if Sheen Estevez knew something, Jim Neutron knew it too. Sponge smiled even wider.
“C’mon Pat, let’s go,” Sponge said, waving for his large friend to follow him back to their cruiser. He pushed past Jim with a not-so-polite shoulder bump and walked out of the alley.
Sponge was almost halfway across the road when Jim grabbed him by the shoulder. Sponge shrugged the clamped hand off with a grunt and turned to face his clientele, his hands slipping out of the pockets of his sweatshirt. “Ugh. The fuck d’y—”
“So what?” Jim said, his voice uneven and desperate. Sheen glanced beside him at Carl, who looked just as concerned as Sheen was, and they both rushed to Jim’s side. They were gonna back him up, no matter what—because that’s what friends do —but they kept two feet away from Jim, in case he did something stupid. “Suh-so fuckin’ what?! You peddle drugs all the fucking time, to everyone! Why am I different?! You’ve met Cindy before! She’d never get with me normally! Not even if she was drunk, the fucking cunt! Her will’s just too fucking strong! I’m lucky that she even talks to me after all the times I tried to get with her! You have to help me, man! I need that shit!” Sheen could see tears—honest to goodness tears forming at the corners of Jim’s eyes. Jim never cried. He never let anyone else cry either. He’d always say “look at the bright side,” or bombard them with mumbo-jumbo science-y bullshit until they were laughing. That was the Jim Sheen knew. Was this even the same person? Jim had taken up gambling recently, and drinking excessively was now a key part of every shindig Jim went to nowadays. But trying to get a girl to smoke spiked weed so she’d pass out and he could “roof” her, as Pancho Estevez, Sheen’s older brother, used to say? Would that even work?
The facts floating around haphazardly in Sheen’s head told him that it was scientifically impossible for such a scheme to work.
This wasn’t like Jim at all! Somehow, someway, the teenager with the expertly done pompadour in front of Sheen, the one with the Varsity Football jacket he’d bought off of a graduating senior in Grade eleven, couldn’t be Jim Neutron, he just couldn’t!
And Sheen had a feeling that Carl Wheezer knew this as well, judging by the wavering look on his face, and the sweat rolling down his pudgy cheeks.
This boy was not their friend.
“I-I’ll pay double,” Jim said, walking towards Sponge slowly, arms at out at his sides. “Double the price, man. Think about it! You make two sales in one! I’ll never buy from you again! Please!!”
Sponge’s smile had long since faded. His face now looked as solid as an Easter Island Head. “Maybe you should think about it, Neutron. You’re tryna fucking make me be an enabler of date-rape!” Sponge slapped himself on his forehead, seemingly to wake himself up from this dream he was having. Either the crushing reality of this situation was just now hitting him, or he was putting on a show for his customer. “Fucking date rape , man! You’re pretty sick for such a smart guy, Jimmy. You're lucky the cops don’t take to me so kindly, otherwise you’d be in serious shit, then. Don’t try to buy from me ever again, and I mean it.” Sponge turned to Patrick, who had crossed his arms in front of his chest again. “Let’s get outta here, man.”
“‘Bout fuckin’ time. San’s gonna be piss—”
“HOLD THE FUCK UP!!”
Sponge and Patrick turned to face Jim again, and a synchronized gasp escaped both of their mouths.
Sheen and Carl were now two large steps away from Jim, but their fear had them now glued to the asphalt. Incapable of moving an inch.
Jim was holding a short, small silver box up at Sponge and Patrick. More specifically, aimed at Sponge’s chest. His breaths came in shaky gulps, no doubt from his shot nerves. Sheen dreaded the sound the gun would make.
—PUT IT DOWN NOW ESTEVEZ NOW NOW
And all Jim had to do was twitch, and the gun would fire. Just a tiny twitch would do it.
Sponge looked scared—and rightly so—but the way he held his hands up in front of himself, and they way Patrick did the same, didn't reassure Sheen at all that this was going to end peacefully. It was like they’d rehearsed this, almost. Like they had a contingency plan.
“Listen up, you fucking bastard !” Jim screamed. His voice was raw, and banshee-like. To Sheen, it was gut-wrenching. “Hand over my fucking shit NOW!! ”
“Jim, put the gun down, p-p-please,” Patrick said slowly. His hands had stopped moving; they now rested at about shoulder-level. Jim’s arm, straight like the barrel of his pistol, moved not an inch. Later, Sheen would wonder, Where the fuck did Jim get that fucking thing? His Dad buy it, or did he?
“Yeah, dude,” Sponge smiled nervously. Sweat started running down his face in bullets. “Just...calm down. We can work something out, I’m sure of i—”
“No-oo!!” Jim roared, “I’m done being fucking rational! Fuck rationality! Fuck you! You know what losing your virginity is like, Sponge! I gotta feel that way! At least fucking once!”
“Jimmy,” Carl said, reaching a hand towards his friend, “duh-don’t do this, man!”
Jim ignored Carl and kept yelling. “I can’t go off to fuckin’ Dartmouth a virgin! I won’t ! No one’ll fuck me there and no one’ll fuck me here, either, ‘cept the difference is that here , no one gives a shit if some bitch winds up—”
“You can't go postal in front’a Melvick’s, Jimmy! Think of the kids, man!” Carl continued, pushing his glasses up higher on his wide nose. He always did that when he was nervous.
“Yeah, Jimmy!” Sheen added, “This’s uh-uh-a pretty bad idea once you think about it!”
Jim glanced at Sheen over his shoulder, giving him a look of confusion that made Sheen desperately want Jim to put the gun down. Second thoughts and pistols went together like sand and one’s bare asshole; poorly. “But...you guys know—”
“Yeah, Jimmy! We know that you wanna hook up with Cindy! But you're…” Carl choked on his words for a moment, then continued. “Yo-you’re gonna fucking kill Sponge for her?! This is fucking stupid idea!”
“I-I-I second that thought!” Patrick sputtered.
Jim lowered his arm. The pistol looked awfully heavy now, in his trembling hand. “Oh God...what did I just try to do?” He mumbled under his breath. Sweat made his hair stick in clumps, and drops of it dotted his face. He looked like he was about to be sick. He looked as if he were sick.
“Sheen’s right, ‘Jimmy’,” Sponge said, smirking as he finished pulling back the slide on his pistol. “This was a bad idea.”
“Fuck you, Jim,” Patrick hissed, relief in his voice. He smiled as he spoke, teeth bared in a sweet, childish way.
Sponge had the barrell levelled at Jim’s chest—right at the stylized “R” logo over his heart—before Sheen or Carl had time to react.
Then, the world stopped spinning for five excruciatingly long seconds, as Robert Kenny’s finger tightened on the trigger of the pistol in his hand, and a blinding white flash erupted from the tip, like lightning. Sheen could barely see it, and he didn't know why he saw it, but he caught the wording engraved in the side of the barrel, the light of the muzzle flash illuminating the carved words for less than a second.
“Old Reliable,” said the gun who killed Jim Neutron.
And Sheen only stood there, frozen, as he watched his brother get plugged by the police again.
—DON’T RUN ESTEVEZ DOWN ON THE GROUND NOW NOW
When the world started spinning again, everything went in fast-motion. Too fast for Sheen to keep up. Jim’s body was rocked backwards by the force of the bullet. He managed a single sloppy step backwards before his knees failed him, and he fell onto his back. The rain started just as his back hit the gravel, it's tiny droplets washing the hole in his chest clean of the blood that poured out like a levee had broken. That’s when Carl screamed—either in fear, or in shock.
Sheen snapped out of it. He could have stopped this. He could have…he could have done something, anything! But he didn't. Now he had to fix the mess God made for him.
“Jimmy!!” Sheen wailed and ran to the side of his friend. Jim looked up at Sheen with eyes wide in terror, pure and absolute, a feeling which his friend could only imagine in his worst nightmares. Jim’s hand shook violently as he raised it, a hint that Sheen understood instantly. He grabbed onto Jim’s blood-covered hand and squeezed it, thinking of something that he could say to fix everything—which he knew he couldn’t do. When tears started rolling down Jim’s face, Sheen looked up at Carl. “Call a fuckin’ ambulance!” He yelled, and Carl drew his phone from his pocket and started dialling, fingers twitching from fear.
“D-did-d huh-he guh-guh-get muh-me?” Jim asked quietly, in a timid voice. He followed up his question with a horrifying cross between and sob and a groan in agony as his lungs started filling with blood. He sniffed, and Sheen suspected he already knew the answer. Jim started crying before Sheen even got a syllable out. Crying like a baby.
“Yeah, Jimmy,” Sheen sniffed, fighting to hold back his own tears, “he got ya pretty fuckin’ buh-bad, man!
“But-t yoo-you’re gonna be fine! Carl’s cuh-called the paramedics! Right, Carl?” Sheen looked up at Carl again, who nodded like a madman.
“Uh—ye-yeah, Jimmy!” Carl bent down on Jim’s other side. Carl was shaking all over. He looked like he couldn’t lift a pencil if you asked him to. Carl had hardly ever seen so much blood before, Sheen thought, save for the time he, Sheen, and Jim had snuck into that midnight screening of The Thing when they were in tenth grade. That was the first time any of them had ever been to the movies with girl before; Jim had thought to trick Cindy into coming by saying that she was “too scared” to go and see The Thing, which he promptly refused and told him that she’d be there.
Sheen had nightmares for weeks after, which wasn’t anything new to him, but now they were about his brother being The Thing, and that was almost worse. Almost.
“I-I duh-don’t wuh-wanna duh-die,” Jim sobbed. He sounded weak now, so, so weak. He couldn’t lift his head to see bullet hole in his, or the ones who had shot him (who, were currently whispering at the mouth of the alley). Jim’s face had twisted into a manic grimace: his eyes were shut, but the tears kept streaming down his cheeks like the rain falling down on his from above; his mouth was contorted into a bared-teeth scowl that looked like he was angry, terrified, and depressed at the same time. “I don’t wanna duh-die, guys.” He sounded so, so weak.
“You’re not Jimmy! You’re not!” Sheen said, not really thinking much about what he was saying, “we’re gonna get ya fixed up and then you’re gonna head off to that fancy-shit school and you’re gonna change the world, Jimmy! You’re not dyin’ in this fuckin’ alley!”
Jim looked up at Sheen again, this time with pain in his bloodshot eyes. There was also regret; regret that all of the schemes they’d schemed, all the plans they’d laid out, all the times they’d nearly blown up Mr. Neutron’s shed, was for nothing. Jim said that he could change the world, he said that he knew how to fix seven out of ten of the human race’s problems, he just didn’t have the ability to. Now, the regret in his eyes spelled out, loud and clear, that he would never get the chance to.
“Tuh-tell...my puh-parent-ts that...I luh-love them…” Jim trailed off, and his hand went limp. Sheen dropped it, and stood back up, taking a step away from Jim—or, more specifically, the body. Jim was dead.
“Ho-holy fuck!” Carl wheezed, and groped at his back pocket for is inhaler. “Holy fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK! ”
“Jim’s...Juh-Jimmy’s dead,” Sheen mumbled. His brain couldn’t connect the dots, much like last time. It took him about three minutes for it to hit him that his brother was dead. Now, at his age, it took him thirty seconds.
He knew those thirty seconds were over when pain in his gut made him double over. He felt his stomach grumble, and smelled the sickly familiar stench of bile. Sheen whirled around to the dumpster behind him and puked into the open side. “Fuck!” He slurred once his guts felt hollow and empty, and fell down to his knees.
Jim’s mouth was still open, as were his eyes. It was like someone had paused him with a T.V. remote, and they could hit “PLAY” and Jim would be talking and walking and cracking jokes about atoms and shit, as if nothing had happened.
“Well,” Sponge said, sniffing once to clear his nose. “That was fuckin’ terrible. I’m sorry, but—”
“No!” Carl said, spitting at Sponge. His loogie landed on one of Sponge’s shoes. “You don’t get to be sorry! You just fucking killed somebody! You just killed my best friend! What the fuck is wrong with you?!”
“ NO! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Carl screamed. He ran over to Sponge and poked him in the shoulder as hard as he could. “When the fucking paramedics get here, we’re telling them you shot him! We’ll tell them that fucking Robert fucking Kenny shot Jim Neutron!!” Carl balled his fists up at his sides, and hunched up his shoulders. Like this, he looked at least an inch taller than Sponge.
“ Hey , hey, man,” Sponge said, his free hand outstretched as a sign of peace. “There’s no need for that! C’mon, we’re friends!”
“No we’re fucking not! We’re not fucking friends!” Carl’s face was red now, from the yelling. Sheen had never heard him this angry. It was jarring.
“Yeah, fuck you!” Sheen said. He had a difficult time getting to his feet, but he managed, even thought the world was spinning around him. He thought he would puke again—he felt it coming up—but he swallowed in time and stepped over to where Carl was. “Fuh-Fuck you, puta!”
“Hey, I ain’t no faggot!” Sponge replied dryly. Carl’s hands shot for Sponge’s gun (“Old Reliable,” if the engraving were to be believed), but Sponge moved back just in time, out of Carl’s reach. He put out a hand in front of him to keep Carl at bay. “Okay, look , here’s what’s gonna happen: Patrick’s gonna cap me in the leg, then, when the court case rolls around—”
“No! There’s no plan! Fuck you!” Carl swung at Sponge’s face, and caught him off guard, in the chin. Sponge staggered backwards, dropping Old Reliable as his hands flew upwards to his face. Sheen saw some blood spill on the ground.
“Oww! M’dder fugger !!” Sponge growled through his cupped hands. “Bit mah fucking tung!”
“Oh, poor you!” Carl said as he took a step towards Sponge. Patrick stepped in the way, arms out to his sides. He towered over Carl, being at least a head taller, maybe even two. The look on his face was absolute in its stoniness and ruthless nature.
“Okay, I get it, you’re upset,” Patrick said, his voice deep and booming. “But back the fuck off, Wheezer!”
“You saw him! He killed Jim! He fucking killed him! Even you can't think that that’s—”
“I’ve ki’ed people before,” Sponge said. He stuck two fingers in his mouth, wiping the blood away from the cut on his parched tongue. “I’ve ki’ed a lot o’ folks.”
“What?” Carl said, stepping back from Patrick, who crossed his arms across his chest again. Sponge leaned out from behind his large friend. He did not look like the cowards whose movements he were imitating; Sponge’s face was drawn up into a grim look of silent, calculated fury.
“Once,” Sponge said, “back in my old town, there were these two cops who really didn’t take too kindly to my whole operation . Kinda had it out for me. Kinda staked out behind my dad’s favorite bar and arrested him when he was driving his drunk buddies home. Kinda gave me mum a real good friskin’ after she came to bail out my dad. So, as you can imagine…”
Sponge held up Old Reliable, aiming it at Sheen’s head. Sheen took two steps back, hands raised. Sponge advanced three steps towards him.
“...I really fuckin’ hated the both of them.” Sponge cocked the hammer. “So—Pat, tell ‘em what we did.”
Patrick pushed Carl over to the dumpster, and forced him to his knees with a careless but powerful shove. “We staked out the corner where they usually parked to eat ther fuckin’ doughnuts and waited. We figgered out their routine, see? We learned that they swung by after their patrols on Thursday and Saturday. So, we set the fuckers up.
“I come runnin’ down the street, yelling ‘Police! Police!’ And they get out of their car to help me, and I blast them both in the chest. And I did it low ,” Pat placed a hand on his belly. “So they wouldn’t die straight off the bat.”
“Yeah, then, I come in, give ‘em a piece o’ my mind, and then we dump them in the river. Still wigglin’.” Sponge whirled and whipped Sheen in the side of the head with the butt of his pistol, knocking him over. Sheen couldn’t open his eyes for a while afterwards; bright white light filled his vision, and his head pounded like a tribal drum. He could feel the blood both inside his head rushing through his veins and the blood outside of his head, trickling down his forehead. The cut felt naked, and exposed to further beatings.
“Ow, fuck!” Sheen grunted. He wanted to crawl away, to drag himself away from this madman, but he could not order his arms to do such an audacious task. Not while his stomach still writhed inside of him, making his legs feel like they were made of paper, and his head oozed his own blood.
“ Now, here’s what we’re gonna do ,” Sponge smiled, tapping the end of his pistol’s barrel on Sheen’s forehead. “Pat’s gonna cap me in the leg. The cops are already coming. When they get here, the story is that we got in a fight over some money and Jim pulled the gun on me. I only returned fire in self-defence. That’s what we tell the cops, that’s what you tell your parents, that’s what you tell the judge. Got it?”
Sheen gawked as defiantly as he could into the black hole of Sponge’s weapon, the black hole that spit fire like the dragons of yore, with teary eyes. He didn’t want to meet his brother Pancho just yet. He still had so much left to live. “I-I-I—”
“Y-yes-s! Y-yes Goddammit! I don’t wanna die! I don’t wanna die!” Sheen sobbed. He didn’t care about what Carl thought of him. Carl was probably crying, too, but he didn’t dare remove his eyes from the black hole pointing between them. “I don’t wanna die! Dios-s mio! ”
“Good!” Sponge chirped, legitimate joy in his voice that made Sheen want to vomit again, and handed Old Reliable to Patrick. “Okay, go ahead. And don’t fucking steal it this time, I don’t wanna have to root through your—”
Another BANG , and another body fell to the ground, this one screaming madly in pain. Patrick started chuckling while Sponge groped madly at his friend’s sweatshirt, trying to keep himself upright, while the hole in his leg washed with rainwater. But Sheen Estevez didn’t care. All he could look at through the one eye that didn’t have blood dripping down into it, was the motionless body of Jim. The forever still body of Jim.
He thought he saw a tear trickle down Jim’s cold cheek, but it could have been just his own meddling with his vision. It could have been the rain.
“Is...this what occurred, Mister Estevez?” The prosecutor asked, tapping his fingers on the wooden—what had the judge called it? “The Stand?”—that Sheen was sitting in. Sheen straightened his tie and sat up, speaking into the small black microphone in front of him.
His throat felt dry, and completely wordless, but the stares of everyone in the room, ranging from quizzical from the judge, to worried from his mother, to the subtle evil eye that Patrick was giving him from across the room, where he sat at a table with his partner-in-crime next to the jury, forced Sheen’s hand in the matter. He couldn’t meet any of them.
He had to speak.
“I...Y-yes, your honor. That is what occurred.”
“I’m just a lawyer, son,” the prosecutor said. The prosecutor—he had introduced himself as Richard Bottomfeeder— had short, combed black hair that fell to one side of his head. His oval-shaped glasses hid the shiftiness of his beady little eyes. Worst of all, his smile looked downright criminal. He pointed up at the judge, who rolled her eyes. “ That’s who you refer to as ‘your honor’,” he said, chuckling.
Sponge and Patrick started laughing, causing Sheen’s face to go red. He wanted to shrink down into his suit and hide in it like it was a turtle’s shell. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even want to be in the courtroom. He could have easily ditched and not gone at all, but Carl’s mom would have made him go, so Sheen would be left friendless, and going to Melvick’s with Liz would have just made him depressed.
The Neutron house was out of the question.
“Enough!” The judge barked at Sponge and Patrick, who fell silent shortly after, giddy grins plastered on their faces like stickers. The judge, whose golden nameplate that sat on her stand read Stickleback, had silver hair that hung down from her scalp in thin, knife-straight strands. Sheen couldn’t help but wonder if she had dyed it or not. Judge Stickleback pointed her gavel at Bottomfeeder. “Go ahead.”
Bottomfeeder straightened out his glasses and nodded. “With pleasure,” he said and turned his attention back to Sheen. “So, you agree with my clienteles’ statements? That, what they described happened, actually happened?”
Sheen felt like his throat had been tied. All sealed up with a pretty little bow. A bow tied by the sponge sitting fifteen feet away from him. He’d already said what Sponge had told him to; that they got into a fight over some money Jim owed Sponge for a bet, and Jim drew a gun and nicked Sponge in the leg, so it was Sponge’s constitutional right to draw and fire back. Sheen left out the part about Sponge “not wanting to kill Jim”, but Sponge had already said that when he was brought to the stand. There wasn’t much that Sheen could even say at this point.
But there was something he could.
His heart surged in his chest at the thought of it. It was so simple, but yet he found himself struggling to even think of the words to say. All he had to do was tell the court that Sponge and Patrick’s claims were false; that Sponge shot Jim after he had lowered his pistol and did so with the intent to kill him because their drug deal had gone south. It wouldn’t be difficult at all to pin this on them after that; Carl would definitely pipe up and say that they tried to strongarm the both of them into silence. Sponge would go to juvie, and then jail for the rest of his life sentence for first-degree. Patrick would be an accomplice, but Sheen didn’t know how many years he would get. Jim could be buried, it’d be a nice funeral, and Sheen could move on. He felt the stringy nerves in his arms tense up like drawn bowstrings when he felt Bottomfeeder’s eyes boring into him from behind his silver-rimmed spectacles.
He had to answer.
He could walk away from this. Pat and Sponge...well, he’d never see them again. He’d make sure of that. He could forget about all of this, but he could never forgive himself.
He could also finger the two. Maybe the jury would just laugh at such a bold accusation and deem Sponge innocent.
Sheen was certain that there’d be another dead body if that happened: his.
Sheen could feel dozens of other eyes on him now. The sketch artist in the corner, madly flicking away at her easel with a faded chunk of charcoal. His parents (luckily for him, his mother had stopped crying, probably by his father’s coercion, but she looked ready to burst out in tears again at a moment’s notice). Carl Wheezer, who had hardly raised his head from the laminated desk in front of him the entire session, let alone moved , was now staring at him in horrified awe, dreading his answer. Sheen couldn’t tell if he wanted him to blab or if he wanted him to lie. Sponge was the only one not looking; he was staring down at his lap, most likely on his phone.
Sheen took a deep breath through his nose and straightened his back. He felt like there was an invisible weight pressing against his chest, making it hard to breathe, let alone speak, but he managed to slip a few words from his mouth. He’d finally figured out what he wanted to say.
“Yes. Absolutely. What, uh, Mister Kenny and Mister Starr said happened is what I recall to have happened.”
“Alright,” Bottomfeeder said, and turned to the jury. “So, as you can clearly see by the fact that all four witnesses’ recollections of that night’s events are the same, you must certainly…”
Sheen stopped paying attention to whatever spiel the lawyer was on now. He regretted what he’d just said immensely. More than anything he’d ever said in his life. He thought that if he said what Sponge told him to, the feeling would stop, and he could, in time, cope with his friend’s “passing”. But, in the seconds after he let a murderer and his friend go free, in those quiet moments of insanity, one thing above all else became agonizingly clear to him.
The feeling would never go away.
To him, the feeling was anger. Sorrow. Pain. But most of all, the feeling he felt was cold, and that coldness that he soaked in like a corpse in a frozen lake came to him as a dog. A dog he could have owned when he was a child, but disappeared after they took Pancho away. A black, rabid mutt with tar-coated fur and icy yellow eyes. It lived inside of him, inside the hollow void in his skull and fed on the soggy organs in the infinite pit of his stomach, tearing them from their place and gobbling them whole before moving on to his ribcage. Its presence chilled Sheen to the core until he was clammier than a three-day body.
There, it sat on his lungs and ripped chunks from his heart, artery by artery, ventricle by ventricular, atrium by atrium, and it would keep going until it had to stop; the black mutt knew it couldn’t kill him. That would be too merciful. So it sat in wait and played with the strung-up remains of what remained, biding its time until it dozed off to sleep, or Sheen put it to sleep himself.
There would be no sleeping to be done this time. Not from the black mutt, for with it came the bad news:
—JIMMY’S DEAD YOU KILLED HIM YOU LET HIM DIE DIE KILLED NOW
—THEY’RE FREE NOW YOU NEVER STOP THEM NOW JIM’S DEAD AND YOU LET THEM GET AWAY WITH MURDER
—PANCHO IS MAD YOU KILLED THEM BOTH
— WHY SHEEN WHY
Sheen shook his head and looked up. Bottomfeeder was in front of him; he looked worried, which only made Sheen worried even more. Lawyers are never worried. “Huh?”
“You can leave now. The hearing’s over.”
Sheen blinked. “Wuh-what?”
“Yeah. It’s over. You can leave. Your, uh, parents are already outside, and so is Mister Wheezer.”
Sheen opened the gate to the stand and slid himself out. The black mutt’s feastings had made his knees weak. “What happened to Sponge and Patrick?” He asked.
Bottomfeeder took off his glasses and drew a small violet handkerchief out of his pocket to wipe the lenses. “Mister Kenny got sentenced with a thousand hours of public service, but the, eh, official police investigation has yet to be officially closed. Could still change. Did you doze off or something?” Bottomfeeder slid his glasses back on, pushing them up to the bridge of his nose.
Sheen shook his head and walked past Bottomfeeder, toward the exit. “Nah. Nah, I’m good. Just gotta…”
“Lie down? You do look pale.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” Sheen said. “Lie down.”
“You know, Mister Estevez,” Bottomfeeder said. His tone suggested he was about to tell Sheen something. “Lawyers have the unfortunate dis-ability to say ‘see you around’ as our parting words. Do you know why?”
“No,” Sheen said, stopping with his hand on the door. He looked over his shoulder at Bottomfeeder. “Why?”
“Well, it’s because nobody wants to see the same lawyer for the second time in twenty years , let alone see them around . Can you imagine? ‘Oh, hey, I’m that lawyer that sentenced your son to twenty years in prison? How’s things?’” He said with a little chuckle. Bottomfeeder walked towards Sheen, his tanned leather briefcase in his hand. His other hand was busy doing the bottom button on his suit’s jacket. He stopped just one step away from Sheen. “But I have very good instincts, Mister Estevez. So, I think I can firmly and proudly tell you…”
Bottomfeeder patted Sheen on the shoulder, and pushed past him to get outside with his free hand.
"I’ll be seeing you.”
Sheen stood in the doorway for a long time after that.
Sheen knew Sponge was coming without even lifting his head. He could hear his shoes squeaking from a mile away. When he did look up, he saw that Sponge was alone. Patrick must have already gone home. Sponge had his jacket over his shoulder, but apart from that, he had kept his suit on. The look suited him; the red tie, dress shirt, and brown dress pants, but Sheen would rather die than admit that.
“What’s up?” Sponge said quietly. Sheen didn’t answer. He didn’t owe him that . He didn’t owe Sponge anything.
“Patrick said you’d pull the ‘silence’ thing on me. Make me feel guilty or some shit. Isn’t working.
“I just came over here to thank you for what you did in there. I thought you’d squeal on us. Pat an’ I almost bet money on it. But, you didn’t. Guess I had you pegged all wrong, Estevez.” Sponge put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a lighter. It was silver, with jagged engravings done all over it. Sheen suspected they were hand-made. Sponge started flicking the cap open and closed. “You’s a pretty alright guy. Can’t say the same for Wheezer, but you’re alright.
“And I get it, like, don’t think I’m insensitive, or some shit. I know about your brother, and...I’m sorry for—”
“Fuck you. I don’t care. Fuck off.”
Sponge looked lost for a moment. “Okay. Well, my pa—”
“Fuck you. Don’t care.”
Sponge shut the cap of his lighter and put it back in his pocket. He turned and left. Sponge moved away over the summer—his parents wanted to get away from that “yucky murder”—so that was the last the the two ever spoke to each other.