I have been completely up in the air about what to share in the Caddy ‘verse today. I was undecided until about an hour ago. I have chosen, because I’m the author publishing my own stuff and I can make this decision, to share with you a glimpse of the only member of the crew you won’t meet in the books. Charlie, the central force, big brother, and leader.
My disclaimer here is that what I’m sharing has not been through an editor. It’s a raw piece of history I wrote a while back. If I’ve learned anything from past experience it’s that if you start a story with a dead brother, you will write him eventually. I’m surprised it took me as long as it did. I love him even more for it.
So without anymore delay, I give you Charlie.
I’m staring at a gun barrel. It’s pointed at my chest. Outwardly, I haven’t moved since he drew on me. Internally, all I can hear is my heart pounding.
“What are you doing, Warren?” I ask. When I lift my eyes he shifts his weight.
“He’s hustlin’ me, Charlie,” he says. There’s sweat breaking on his forehead.
When I look him in the eye he shifts again.
“Of course he’s hustling you. He’s obviously a rookie. I don’t remember that being punishable by death,” I say.
Warren’s eyes cut from me to the kid he was threatening just minutes before now. If I really thought Warren had it in him, I’d choose now to draw. But his heart isn’t in it. He turned his gun on me before he recognized me.
“Do you really want to draw on me, Warren?”
“I didn’t mean to,” he mutters, his attention flitting back to me.
“I know. Put the gun away. I’m not going to retaliate,” I tell him. The whole time I’m consciously relaxing the muscles in my shoulders, in case this gets ugly.
Warren looks at me like a dog who has been kicked too many times. He knows he fucked up and he doesn’t quite believe me that I won’t kill him if he takes his aim off of me. I get it, honestly. As his internal conflict rages, his gun slowly lowers to his side.
“Put it away, Warren, and we’re done here,” I say. I still haven’t moved.
He holsters so I gesture toward the building with my chin.
“Time to go,” I say.
He nods and shuffles away inside the bar’s back door. A long breath slows my pulse. I pull my smokes from my pocket, lip one, and light it. I hear the stranger move again and release a shaky breath. I take a drag and angle toward him.
He’s young, maybe my sister’s age. His eyes are wide. He’s wearing jeans and plain black t-shirt. He probably goes to Tulane.
“Close one,” I muse, slightly lifting an eyebrow. I don’t smirk at him, but my tone is definitely goading.
“Hey man, thanks,” he says in a rush. The hands hanging at his sides are shaking. He’s scared shitless.
“A word of advice, rookie, this territory is taken. If you want to hustle, go back to the playground,” I tell him, casually sliding my free hand in my pocket.
The movement catches his attention. He freezes, waiting to see if I’m going to draw on him, too. Now I let a small smile play on my lips.
“You’re not even strapped, are you?”
His shoulders deflate and he kicks at a wadded up paper bag on the ground.
“No,” he admits quietly.
I take another hit from my cigarette and shake my head. This guy is gonna get himself killed.
“Can I buy you a drink, you know, as thanks?” he says, his tone more hopeful than I would have expected.
“You got a name, rookie?”
I pull my hand out of my pocket and extend it.
He stares at it warily, then accepts. His handshake is firm despite his obvious fear. I flick my cigarette at the ground and add, “Come on.”
I head back in the bar without waiting to see if he’ll follow. Where else is he going to go? When the door swings wide, there’s someone poised to open it. My hand twitches toward my gun, but recognition stops me.
“You OK?” Isaiah asks, his eyes skipping over my shoulder to the new kid.
“Gravy,” I say with a grin.
He nods and turns back inside. I’m on his heels and Josh brings up the rear. He follows us to the semicircle booth where we’re posted up.
“Did you finally find a boyfriend?” Noah asks around the cigarette hanging from his lips.
“I thought he was more your type,” I tell him, sliding into the booth. I tip up my PBR, drain it, then add, “Anyway, next round is on him.”
“You’re right, he is my type,” Noah says with a big smile.
“I think shots are in order,” Jack weighs in.
He has one arm slung over the back of the booth, and he’s sizing up the new arrival with a passive expression. His dark hair is hanging against his shoulders and he has a hand on his Budweiser bottle.
Josh is standing awkwardly by the table. His eyes are bouncing among the rest of us as we candidly volunteer him to buy us liquor. When he realizes what I’ve done, his expression becomes a scowl that tugs at the corners of my lips.
“Tequila all around,” I say with a nod.
“Good call!” Noah says.
“Go help him carry them,” Jack says to his younger brother.
“What? Why do I have to go?” Noah protests.
“So he doesn’t spill them all on the way back,” Jack says, lifting an eyebrow. His expression is enough to let us all know this won’t be an argument.
“Oh, what the fuck,” Noah says with a groan. Still, he stabs out his smoke, scoots out of the booth and mutters, “Fine. Come on, new guy.”
Josh gives the rest of us another calculating glance then follows Noah toward the bar.
Jack watches them for a moment then locks eyes with me. He raises his eyebrows expectantly. After years of being friends, he doesn’t need to put a voice to the questions in his gaze.
“I found him out back about the get himself shot. He hustling something. Doing a shitty job, too,” I say.
“So that’s why Warren came through here sulking,” Izzy says, lighting a cigarette.
I nod, grabbing Izzy’s pack off the table and shaking one out. He watches me do it, his lips pressed in a thin line, but he doesn’t say anything. He lifts his lighter, flicks the flame to life. I duck the end of the smoke to the flame and light it.
“So you invited him to join us?” Izzy says in an unamused tone.
“He offered to buy me a drink,” I answer with a shrug. “You know, for saving his ass.”
“What a hero,” Izzy says flatly.
Jack snickers and brushes some wayward strands of hair over his shoulder. There’s a fresh burn on his forearm in the shape of a grill grate. He looks back toward the bar and I know he’s tracking his brother.
“You’ve been watching that kid since he walked in here,” Izzy says.
“So have you, I’m not stupid, Iz,” I answer. My tone is nonchalant, but he’ll know better than to think I’m taking the situation so lightly.
“Apparently he is,” Izzy answers.
“I don’t know about that,” I say, catching Izzy’s frown in my periphery. “Stupid and inexperienced are different matters.”
“Looks like Noah is making a friend out of him,” Jack says, his eyes still on his brother’s back.
“Noah would make friends with a snake after it bit him,” Izzy says. One of his hands is idling on his amberbock as the other transfers his cigarette to his lips.
“That’s not entirely true,” Jack answers, side-eying Isaiah. We all know that though Noah can – and usually will – talk to anyone, he’s a damn fine judge of character.
When the younger two return, Noah has two shots sitting on the palm of his left hand and one shot in his right hand. Josh is holding one in each hand. Noah reaches his left hand toward Izzy and me, and we both take one. Josh hands one to Jack and waits for a cue.
“To Charlie. Not all heroes wear capes,” Jack says snidely.
A laugh tumbles out of me as we clink glasses and toss back the shots. I watch Josh over the rim. He grimaces, but he keeps it down.
“Everyone, this is Josh,” I say, drawing attention to him as he battles the tequila gods.
Noah is also watching with a one-sided smirk as Josh tries to handle the liquor. Noah points when he says, “Jack, Charlie, Isaiah. And I’m Noah.”
Josh just nods at us. I can still see uncertainty in his eyes. He’s either not sure how to handle the dynamic among us, or he’s not sure if he measures up to our league. It’s a strange thing to think, but I have this feeling that with the right guidance, he’d fit in just fine.
“I sure could use a smoke break,” Izzy says grimly.
I watch Josh’s eyes bounce from the cigarette in Izzy’s hand to me, then get wide as the words seem to make sense. He’s quick minded, I’ll give him that.
“That’s a damn fine idea. Who brought the blunt?” I say.
“Got it,” Noah answers, patting his pocket.
Without any more directive, we start sliding out of the booth. The others head toward the back door. Josh just stands there, watching us. I meet his eye from over my shoulder and say, “You coming?”
His eyes brighten and he nods.