Sean Reynolds

            An unexpected rain, it seems all rain is unexpected in Southern California.   The summer was drawn out and pushed hard upon the torpid community laboring amid nature's arrogance.     Now, a slight drizzle, confused and changed the outlook of a weary society running errands, working, and passing time on the newly moistened streets.   However, late August is not an unusual time for a brief thunderstorm to gust through L.A. A monsoon that is generated far across the ocean finds its way to the Southern Baja, and pounds upon the shore invading coastal towns and creating chaos with high winds and heavy rain.   Steadily it moves north, creeping further inland while diminishing in strength.   Light rain reaches San Diego as the shadow storm continues until it crawls into the city weak and nearly finished.   It exhales a last moist breath upon tall, dirty skyscrapers and hot, shiny cars waiting motionless on bands of burning tar and concrete.    The invading droplets collide on hot asphalt with gray, summer-long dust.    Although the afternoon will become extraneously unbearable when the glistening spectacle has ended and the harsh awareness of high humidity dominates the conversation, the seemingly unexpected occurrence is welcomed by most as a pleasant diversion from the relentless heat of long, hot August days.

            Two young Latinos walk on a hot, slightly moist sidewalk that nearly vaporizes the pale shower upon contact. The neighborhood is recklessly urban with wide, busy streets and exhausted storefronts guarded by iron bars and roll down garage doors. Their conversation is short and cryptic as they approach an intersection that has a gas station on each of its corners. A large billboard towers over them announcing a brand of beer as the drink of sexy, courageous, respected men, while beneath, in the cover of its shade, homeless outcasts share cheap vodka wrapped in the silence of a paper sack.   The two young men wander carelessly by the group.   The shorter of the two holds up his hand displaying the Sixth-Street Gang symbol.

            "Any of you losers want some action, step up to the plate, huevon, pince cavron ," Freddy, the smaller of the two heckled the fallen citizens.   He wore a clean, white tee shirt that gripped tightly around his neck, which was adorned with a tattoo that said, "Duster."   He had on a new L.A. Kings hat, and wore--cleaned and pressed--khaki-colored short pants that, if he squatted just a bit, would touch his Nikes. When he was not getting high on angel dust, or picking fights with his mother's boyfriends, he was shooting at rival gangs, or dodging their bullets.   Freddy had been in and out of jail many times. He was returning to the neighborhood after serving three years of a five year sentence for armed robbery at the state prison.

            "Shut up.   Shut the hell up." Smokey glared at him, without turning his head.    He didn't condone unneeded violence.    He wasn't afraid of Freddy either.     Smokey was larger than Freddy, and he was as muscular, not because he had spent time inside prison as Freddy. He had been on the football team in high school and had received a partial scholarship, although for the past two years he had dropped out of college and worked part time at his dad's concrete business.     

            Roberto Chavez was known as Smokey because he always held an unlit cigarette loosely in this mouth, slanting from the corner of his lips, although he didn't smoke. He did it partially for effect and to a degree because it made him feel confident.   He was the only son of an immigrant farm worker who arrived in Los Angeles in 1956 with fifteen hundred dollars earned after five years of picking lettuce.   His father, Javier, was a strong, charismatic man.   He had learned English almost as soon as he had arrived in the states.   After struggling to gain his citizenship, he started Chavez Concrete and built it into a strong, thriving company employing over fifty full-time workers.   He married his home-town sweetheart, Maria, from Nombre de Dios, a small town in Mexico not far from the capitol of Durango, brought her to his new life in Los Angeles, and built up a strong family tradition in the heart of the large city.   Smokey's mother was killed in a traffic accident when he was six.    She rested inside him, undulating between warm memories of gentle caresses beside the fireplace, and the terrible confusion of suddenly being left behind.

            Javier changed the name of his company, upon the birth of Roberto, to Chavez and Son and they remained a family of two long after his wife's death.   He raised Smokey without her, and was sickened by men like Freddy who threatened his son's future and compromised the respect of all Latinos with their lawlessness and selfish actions.   Smokey was brave within the confines of the physical fight.   Violence and confrontation were simple to him, fight to win and don't back down unless absolutely necessary, but he saw clearly the error in continuing.   He did not want to become like Freddy trapped in a single role. Aside from a few confrontations with the police, ending in brief misdemeanor stays at the county jail, Smokey escaped the retribution of the law.

  The fight for respect within mainstream society was harder for him.   He was proud of his heritage. His father was a respected business man, but he felt society looked at him the same way they looked at Freddy.   The callous, interrogating stares from the timid, questioning mainstream pushing their way up through life felt especially overbearing on Smokey, but at twenty-one he was rapidly coming to the conclusion that he was his father's son with a place in society.     Smokey felt that he would ascend to his new life soon. He required a shove to propel him, a beam of grace to illuminate his course.

            Through the mist the predator, Freddy, spotted a victim.   Across the street, hidden from view of the cashier, a patron arrived at the gas station in a new car.   A thin, white man in shirt sleeves and tie paused in front of the pump momentarily looking confused.

            "Pinche bolio.   He don't need that ride. We do, ese?"    A nine millimeter Glock bulged from Freddy's waistband.

            "We don't need that, chill loco."     Smokey knew Freddy had a gun, but it was too late.   He was in terrorist mode and the ex-con charged across the street.  


  Roger Harris left his home at eight-thirty each weekday morning in order to provide for his family by selling refrigeration components to supermarkets and small family owned stores.         He drove slowly down the congested boulevard in a new Toyota slightly angered by the haphazard moisture collecting on his windshield, which resulted in a slush of dirt and grime shoved about by the wipers clearing his vision.

            "A little sprinkle and they all drive crazy, like they never saw rain before."   He often spoke out loud to himself within the loneliness of his sales commute.   "How can I succeed?   How can I feel better?   I can't even stop smoking?"  

            Roger pulled into the corner station with an unlit, non-filter cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth.   That was one thing he had in common with Smokey.   The other was an issue of respect.   Roger had worked within the confines of the business community for many years, building trust and reliance with overworked store owners and edgy demanding corporate managers, and had managed to provide a comfortable life for his family. His father had come to Los Angeles with his wife from Nebraska in nineteen fifty-three and began working for a large wholesaler as an accountant.   They purchased a home in the San Fernando Valley and Roger was born in nineteen fifty-seven.     

            There was little doubt in Roger's mind, as he was growing up, that he would follow his parent's mold. He would work hard to raise a family, attend church and volunteer to help in the community, but one thing in particular had troubled his youth.   It had concerned him his entire life.   His fear of physical confrontation burglarized his mental image of respect.   Although he enjoyed watching football and basketball, he had never played organized contact sports outside of high school P.E.      He had not been in a physical fight beyond getting socked in the chin outside a fast-food restaurant one hot summer evening, while his girlfriend winced and looked the other way.     Those issues lingered on like the indolent rain that smeared his windshield and colored his self-image with doubt.   Popular culture, movies and novels and possibly the entire saga of written history was illustrated with solemn respect granted to the conqueror.   To succeed against violence with violence was to be a revered victor.   This was unfinished business in Roger's mind.   Possibly he, too, was searching for illumination to comfort him and steer his vision.  

            He stood at the pump with a lighter raised to his unlit cigarette as his eyes confronted the "No Smoking Turn Off Engine" sign remedially hanging above him mocking his careless action.            

            "Shit, what am I doin?   I'll blow the whole place up."    Roger switched the lighter to his left hand and began pumping gas, with the unlit smoke   between his lips.   He glanced from side to side feeling uncomfortable in the intense urban landscape; the homeless men drinking in small groups, the litter blowing about with the summer rain and the overall chaotic nature of the inner city.                                

            Instinctively, Roger's heart beat faster when he saw Freddy quickly moving toward him.   He was used to the persistence of pandering, disheveled, homeless men asking for spare change and the uncertain, harsh looks of youth standing on corners as he drove past, but he was aware this was different.   He recognized the immediacy and the intensity in Freddy's eyes.   He knew without being able to think that his purpose was sinister, and then he saw Freddy reach for the gun.

            Smokey caught up with his urban counterpart just as he was announcing himself to Roger.

            "You can consider this a robbery, white boy," Freddy yowled, burning with adrenaline and insane pleasure. "Give me your keys and wallet.   Now asshole!"   Roger froze and pretended to ignore him while his hand trembled on the handle of the pump and Freddy's hand stroked the Glock in his waistband.     

            "You better listen asshole. Don't be disrespecting me, or I'll cut your fucking head off."

            It was too late to calm him down. Smokey knew that the best thing to do now was to get through with the action as quick as possible and get out of there.

  "Hey, give us your keys.   This guy's crazy. He'll kill you.   Give us the keys and you live... Now!"   Smokey was pleading.  

              Time moved slowly, almost frozen. Freddy saw things clearly.   He knew what he wanted.   He knew how to react, but the other two considered different options.   

Roger stared blankly into their eyes, first at Freddy, intent and brazen, and then at Smokey, nervous and questioning, with the unlit cigarette hanging from his lips.    He realized he was also holding an unlit smoke in his mouth and he nearly smiled.

            Roger Harris growled loudly as he pulled the flowing pump from his shiny new car and violently bathed the two gangsters in a volatile shower of gasoline. It seemed as if it lasted fifteen minutes, although it was over in less than twenty seconds.   First Freddy with a look of astonishment on his hardened face as the pungent liquid shot over his white shirt dousing the gun and his new Nikes, and then Smokey looking on, confused, waiting for the outcome, stood damp in the light rain saturated with dynamite.

            They stood motionless, searching each other's eyes for answers, and then Roger, recognizing that they shared a moment of equality, looked at Smokey.   Roger Harris was not afraid. He was calm.   Without hesitating, he struck his lighter and lit his smoke.   The two friends watched with horror as Roger held up the flame and stared at Smokey's unlit cigarette.

            "Need a light?" ?