Worth It

A The Wire story by rg kinski

Zen concept of relation: energy transferred through the collision of individuals.

Of course I kept on walking.

We are given this weapon of ourselves: our napes, the small of our backs. Yesss rising from my solar plexus.
  - from Absolute Zero by Ellen Wehle


The Cheese Stands Alone (Omar the Terror)
In-depth cultural analysis of The Wire, its characters, David Simon, sex, violence, and sex. And violence and sex. And Omar. And Brandon. And Omar AND Brandon.



Omar never won a boy in a standoff before, but he wasn't one to stray far from the notion that anything could happen, nor let a good boy go to waste. This particular boy, by the name of Brandon, started out none too happy about Beetle's offer, but in the end Omar hoped he would agree: of all the parties involved, he ended up getting the best of the deal.

Anyway, it happened like this: Omar and his partner-in-crime John Bailey, and Beetle and his crew of stickup boys popped the stash house on Bannock coming from opposite corners at close enough to within minutes of each other to call it a draw. Omar and Beetle had no love for each other but there was much respect on both sides. So, guns drawn, the street so still you could hear the rats sorting through the spilled piles of garbage, Beetle asked him what it would take for Omar to step off on this one, 'less he rather have a shoot-out right there and then. Omar couldn't think of a damn thing Beetle could offer that was worth more than the 4 Gs worth of cocaine he knew for a stone-cold fact were just behind the door of the stash-house, so he rolled a crick out of his neck and shoulders, turned to a very morose John Bailey and gave him a look that was meant to convey this parting thought: just in case we don't make it, it's been all that. Outlaid, he said: "I got Beetle. You take him,too."

Beetle heard him very clearly. They were only standing about 3 feet apart from each other, even less if you counted the short distance between the snouts of both gunmen's double-barreled saw'd offs. Beetle was at an unfortunate disadvantage. None of his boys had yet drawn their guns. Between Omar's shotgun and Bailey's glock, they were all gonna end up a heap a cole slaw.

"Now, Mr. Omar, " Beetle said, lifting his head from the gunsight and fixing the other shooter with a nervous tic of a smile. "There can't be more 'n' a G behind that door. Maybe a G and a half. Surely money don't mean that much to you, do it, in the face of certain death?"

"Well," Omar replied, his gaze steady through the gunsight. "I look at it like this, Mr. Beetle. I take my chances and shoot you first, this shit here ain't never gonna happen again."

Beetle knew he was gonna die eventually, probably under circumstances very similar to these, but he always pictured his death as heroic....ignominious, to be sure, but heroic in a way that any fellow stickup boy could understand.

Not like this, in a Mexican standoff no more than a couple feet away from his assassin. There was no satisfaction in knowing that Omar and his henchman would be killed, too. Beetle just couldn't accept that his own crew of baby gangsters would outlive him so soon in the game, before his legend fully developed. Who knew how badly they would fuck up the story of how it all went down?

Beetle eased his finger off the trigger and lowered his shotgun, motioning to his crew to do the same. Omar and John Bailey stood strong and silent.

"I can't help but notice," Beetle said, "that you is a little shorthanded today, my brother."

Omar narrowed his eye for the briefest moment, then refocused on Beetle's cued-up image through the gunsight.

"Yall know Anthony up in the Cut," Omar responded. "Been there some time now."

"True, true. But you gotta admit, Mr. John Bailey's reputation notwithstanding, that a man and his partner is no match for a man and his crew....and you ain't got a crew no more, now that your brother laid up in the cage."

"Oh, we make do with what we got."

"Not so good, right now, though. I mean, I can't help but notice you is outnumbered, all I'm sayin'."

Beetle imagined more than he could actually see Omar's fingertip ease off the trigger just a mite. It gave him a boost of confidence.

"So," Beetle continued. "Thought it might be worthwhile to make you a little proposition. Figure it's better than gettin' kilt over this here shit. As you say."

"Don't see a way out of this," Omar answered. "Except ya boys and you take a pass on this here stash and try again down the road a ways. Only proposition I'm interested in is one keeps you outta my territory."

"This here the West Side, Omar. This everybody's territory. If that's your feelin', you may as well shoot me now. Then you be dead, I be dead, and it'll be up to Mr. Bailey and my crew to carry on. That is, if Mr. Bailey survive. But listen to this: take one a my boys. Whatever iron he's packin', you can have that, too. And we split the stash. If there even is a stash to be had at this point, cuz, for all we know, this ship done sailed due to all the ruckus we makin' out here on the street. Know what I mean?"

Omar raised his head from the gunsight.

"Now what I want with one a them low-bottom kids you call a henchman?"

Beetle caught Omar's quick once-over of the three teenaged boys standing behind him that constituted his crew. Maybe among the three of em, there was one who was Omar's type. Because that would be the dealmaker: a boy young and pretty enough to change the course of Omar's mission. Beetle didn't pop no shawty, so he couldn't be sure any one of em was that kid. He tried to remember, what, exactly, was Omar's soft-spot, according to legend.

"Don't judge so quick, brother," Beetle insisted. "These boys get the job done. And they respect you, they do. Shit, everybody been knowin' Omar, and your brother Anthony, too. Much love and much respect. Ain't a one wouldn't consider it a honor to be on your crew. You take whichever one you want, and see if he ain't the fiercest, loyalist, most cold-blooded muthafukka ever had ya back."

"A stickup boy and his iron, huh?"

"And half the stash."

Omar put his gun to his side. "Which one?"

"Anyone you want, brother. They all, uh, what's the word? Reliable."

While Bailey kept a bead on Beetle, Omar stepped up for a closer look. Beetle's stickup crew were just kids standing hard behind their killer glares. Their youthfulness made Omar feel downright wistful.

"They gettin' younger," he said.

"Ain't that the truth," Beetle agreed, his voice as full of regret as Omar's.

Omar's glance settled on the skinny yellaboi with a tangle of stringy black braids pouring out of a pilly sock hat. The boy's narrow-eyed gaze burned in a face that would be fearsome if not for the way his upper lip protruded over an ill-fitting pair of gold caps. He might do, Omar thought, though what he would do with him, he wasn't too sure.

"What chu packin', son?" Omar asked him.

"Step off, faggot," the boy hissed. It really did come out as a hiss due to the caps.

"Oh, you gonna love this, Mr. Omar," Beetle said eagerly. "He gotta 9mm and he can handle it, too. Go on, show him B."

Oblivious to the boy's anger, Beetle put his shotgun on the sidewalk, then grabbed a corner of the boy's puffy down parka and started to lift it. The boy was a step ahead of him and tugged the pistol out from under the oversized coat.

"Whatever the fuck's goin' down here," the boy said, "I ain't to be passed off to this motherfuckin faggot, I don't think so, Beetle. I murder ya both where ya stand."

The yellaboi lifted his gun. Omar was impressed. In the dim light of a distant street lamp, it appeared to be a stainless steel-clad Ruger. Then he stepped aside, putting Beetle between himself and the gun's direct range.

The boy's grip on the gun was shaky. He brought his other hand up underneath to steady it as he swung it back and forth between Beetle and the other stickup boys who, up until then, had been snickering into the palms of their hands.

Bailey carefully kept them in the sight of his glock, both hands wrapped around the butt, his arms fully extended. He and the boy might have been cohorts in an ambush, with Omar safely on the shadowy sideline.

Too excited to stop himself, Beetle pounced on the yellaboi, wrestling him for the gun, still working the deal with Omar. "Didn't I tell ya?" Beetle gasped. "He slight, but don't let that fool ya. Yall see he fierce! He got fight in him."

Beetle got the gun out of the boy's hands and smacked him hard across the face with it. The boy spun, landing on his hands and knees on the sidewalk. In the course of the blow, the boy's sock hat snagged on a link of a platinum bracelet around Beetle's wrist and was yanked off his head.

Beetle was a might sorry, fearing that if he gone fucked up the boy's face, Omar would lose interest, but his mood changed when he noticed the damage to his bracelet. He put the gun on the boy and sputtered obscenities at him.

The boy glanced up. Maybe it was the way a shaft of moonlight commingled the radiance of his anger and fear, but Omar saw something in those eyes and the set of his bloodied mouth that made his heart drop to his stomach and spring back up into his throat. Sometimes it happened that way with Omar. The boy reached across the sidewalk and snatched back the sock hat. Omar couldn't tell you why, but the sight of the boy's shredded knuckles as he pulled the hat down on his head planted a clear-cut detour in Omar's course of action.

Tucking his gun under his arm, Omar picked up Beetle's discarded shotgun and shoved its barrel hard into the back of Beetle's head. He uncocked the hammer. Even in the din of Beetle's indignant tirade, the sound was loud and clear.

"Aight," Omar said. "It's a deal. I'll take that 9mm." He nodded at the boy, crouched on his knees now, but still a mite wobbly. "Git your gun, man."

"Yo, Omar," Bailey said, speaking up for the first time.

Omar ignored him, gestured with the shotgun. The boy slowly got to his feet and took his gun back. No sooner did he have it in his hand then he whipped it hard across Beetle's chin. By the sound of the crack the blow made, Omar guessed the boy was getting his strength back, if not his senses.

"What else he got?" Omar asked. The boy reached behind Beetle and pulled another handgun from the sag of his pants. "Them, too," Omar directed, nodding his head at the stickup boys. They moved a little too fast, so Omar fired a round into the sidewalk inches from their toes. They winced and squeaked as they were sprayed with bits of concrete, but they put their hands up and allowed the yellaboi to grab their guns from out their belts, too.

"Well?" Omar asked them. "What chu waitin' for?"

The boys turned and vanished into the shadows of a nearby alley.

To Beetle he said, "You ain't welcome on the West Side no more, so go on after your boys. And I will be lookin' for you tomorrow, and the next day, and the next."

"You don't play fair, Mr. Omar," Beetle said. "Someday that will catch up with you. Whatever happened to a deal's a deal?"

"Oh, I'll keep my end of the bargain. Go ahead. Rob the stash, man. Go in. I'll take my half when you come out."

Omar pounded his fist on the door and stepped back. He had to admire Beetle for standing his ground. He didn't know what he would have done if someone actually answered the door, but apparently they were long gone out the back way.

Omar laughed, then reached over and took the Ruger from the boy. He was still too lightheaded to protest much. Omar waited until Bailey got a good hold of him on the other side, then reached over to Beetle.

"I take this, too," Omar said, snatching the broken platinum chain out of Beetle's hand. "For my expenses," he said.


The boy was silent during the ride to Omar's, his skinny frame sunk into the vastness of his puffy coat. Omar rode in the front, twisting around every now and then to study the boy. His eyes never opened, but they weren't exactly closed, either. Omar was pretty sure he'd taken the brunt of Beetle's smack on his jaw, and that his brains were probably all right. The front of his coat was blotchy with a copious amount of blood from his mouth. Omar hoped he hadn't lost any teeth.

From back in the day when Omar's brother Anthony ran the crew, Bailey never lost the habit of keeping his opinions to himself, preferring to let his actions speak his mind. So after helping Omar bring the boy back to his current hideaway, he slipped back into the shadows of the projects, to his own little hidey-hole, ready to take Omar's call for whatever might come next.

The yellaboi wasn't resisting him, but he wasn't helping none, either. Seemed like he was all legs and no feet. Still, Omar managed to get the boy upstairs to the bathroom and sit him on the toilet. He ran the tap until the water was steaming, then left the boy to himself to clean up. Downstairs, he sprinkled table salt into a tall glass and brought it back to the bathroom. He knocked on the bathroom door and let himself in. The bloody parka was now on the floor at the boy's feet, and he was leaned over the sink, scooping handfuls of hot water into his mouth. Omar mixed hot water in the glass and handed it to the boy.

"Fuck's this?" he asked.

"To gargle. Stops the blood."

He took the glass and gargled and spit until the water was clear.

Stepping back from the sink, he wiped condensation off the mirror and gave his teeth a good look.

"Shit," he said, pulling his lips back. The boy allowed Omar to examine his mouth. The caps had sliced a fair-sized gash into the inside of his upper lip.

"Gotta get them teeth out," Omar said. "They tearin' your mouth up."

The boy fumbled with the caps, yelping now and then with pain. He finally gave up.

"They stuck!"

Omar washed his hands and stepped aside so the boy could position himself in front of him. The boy held tight to the basin, and bent his knees. Omar reached in.

They were stuck, gory, and very slippery. Tears of pain were leaking from the boy's tightly squeezed eyelids. He finally let out a wail and ducked his face from Omar's prying fingers.

"Motherfucker! Ain't you got some....painkiller...some Henny or sumthin?"

Omar wasn't a drinker but he reckoned Bailey might have something appropriately medicinal stashed in one of the rooms. After a quick search, he returned to the bathroom with a bottle of peppermint schnapps. The boy took a big swig, then screeched.


He tipped back the bottle and finished it off, then doubled over and waited a few minutes. "Do it now!" he said, straightening up. "Now, now!" He opened his mouth wide.

Omar delicately, but determinedly, maneuvered the caps free from the boy's front teeth, with the help of a washcloth. He handed them to the boy. He looked at them as if they were bugs, then flipped up the toilet seat and tossed them in.

"Just as well," Omar commented. "All that glamour don't suit you."

The boy couldn't help but smile, and even though his lip was grossly swollen, Omar couldn't help but find the smile very appealing, now that the offending caps were gone. The boy had nice teeth.

"Scuse me," the boy said, slipping past Omar into the hallway. Omar picked his coat up off the floor and followed him down the stairs.

"So you Omar," the boy said. "'Omar the Terror'. You don't look like no terror to me."

Halfway down the stairs he turned and looked up at Omar, studying his badly scarred face with exaggerated concentration. Omar turned away, uncharacteristically self-conscious.

"But your name suits ya, nevertheless," the boy admitted.

"You been knowin my name and I don't know yours. That seem fair to you?"

"Oh, we ain't gonna be on a first name basis. Soon as you give me back my gun I'm out a here."

When they reached the door, the boy took his coat from Omar and shrugged his skinny frame into it.

"Can't do that," Omar replied. "That gun belongs to me, now. Also, me and my partner know for a fact there was 4 Gs a cocaine in that house. Me and him woulda split it 50-50. I leave it up to you and Bailey to settle on what you owe him, but you owe me twenty thousand dollars, and that's not an amount a money I can let slide. Just can't afford it. And even if I could, there's a principle involved."

"How you figure? First of all, the deal was that you was gonna split the stash with Beetle. That woulda made your share...." The boy stopped to calculate. While he did the math, he kept testing the gash in his lip with the tip of his tongue, and scratching hard at the top of his head, still covered by the sock hat. After a few seconds he gave up. "A fuck lot less than twenty Gs. Anyway, I do owe you for bustin' Beetle in the mouth. I wish't ya'd shot the muthafucker dead, but, shit....I guess that's worth a 9mm."

He opened the door. "So keep the gun. You and I both know it's worth somethin'."

Omar began to feel forlorn. He must have showed it, too, cuz the boy seemed to have a second thought. He paused in the doorway.

"What?" he asked. "You don't think that's fair?"

"I think I just been robbed," Omar replied, shrugging. "But, whatever. I got my reputation already. You go on out and work on yours, some."

"OK, Omar the Terror," the boy said derisively. Again, he studied Omar's face. Then he nodded, and stepped outside.

"It ain't safe out there," Omar warned. He was delaying the inevitable. "This here neighborhood. Ain't safe to go out without protection. Hold up a minute, I give you your gun back."

Omar turned and disappeared into the apartment, hoping the boy would close the door and follow him. He did.

He'd tossed his coat onto a sofa in the front room, and was now digging through the pockets. He found the boy's Ruger and held it out to him. The boy was scratching at his head again.

"Watchu got, fleas?" Omar joked.

The boy looked offended, and headed back to the door. Omar was out of ideas for changing his mind. He could easily pull a gun, force the boy upstairs, get that stupid sock hat and bloody wreck of a coat off of him, and every thing else between him and a piece of the boy's skin. Love him up until he was good and done with him. And the boy owed him! Twenty thousand dollars, not to mention Beetle's undying wrath. He tried to think of anything short of force or money that would cause this baby gangster to fall into his arms.

Omar's prayer was answered when the boy suddenly bent over and vomited all over himself and the doorstep. Omar waited out the first wave, then grabbed him by the collar and rushed him up the stairs. As soon as Omar had him back on the toilet seat, the boy allowed him to remove the ruined coat and assorted layers of sweats and tee-shirts. The mangy sock hat came off with everything else. Omar was surprised to see inches of brick red hair forming the roots of his dark braids. No wonder he was scratching his head, Omar realized. His scalp was flakey with dried skin and cruddy hair-grooming wax. Omar nearly gagged at the smell of coconut oil mixed in with peppermint and the sweetly rancid odor of sick.

The boy suddenly twisted around and dropped to his knees, barely managing to get the toilet seat up in time. Omar held his braids as his head jerked up and down over the toilet, until there was nothing left in him but dry heaves.

"It hurts," the boy moaned, falling limply against Omar's legs. Omar wrapped his arms around him and pulled him up, steering him into the bedroom. He eased him onto a mattress on the floor, and crouched next to him.

"Beetle musta hit harder than I thought, " Omar said. "Thinkin' you need to go to emergency. That ain't gonna be easy cuz Omar don't drive."

The boy had rolled onto his side, his knees pulled up to his chest. He was trembling, his bare arms prickly with goose bumps.

"Nah," he gasped. "I just need a cigarette, is all."

Omar laughed, and then realized he hadn't had a cigarette in hours. Now that was something new.

The boy buried his face in the mattress, then turned back to Omar.

"Say what? You don't drive?"

Omar shook his head. "Got a partner. Don't need to."

"That's the fuckin' funniest thing I ever heard. Ohhhhhhh."

He sat up, clutching his belly. Omar readied himself to run him back to the bathroom, but it was a false alarm.

"I'll get you a smoke," Omar said.

He went downstairs for his cigarettes. Minutes later, he returned to the room. The boy had pulled a blanket over himself and turned towards the wall. Feeling a bit lightheaded his own self, Omar lit a cigarette and sucked in a lungful of smoke. The boy groaned piteously, so he crushed the cigarette out on the floor and resumed his position on the mattress.

"Guess I ain't used to drinkin' that much," the boy said, still facing away. "Not that shit, anyway. And my stomach was empty."

"Beetle don't feed yall?"

"Beetle don't do shit," the boy mumbled. "Shoulda shot that faggot bitch." The boy turned around and said, apologetically, "No offense."

Omar shrugged.

"I'll be outta here in a minute," the boy said before turning back to the wall, tugging the blanket over his shoulders.

Omar thought not, and settled on a corner of the mattress, sitting cross-legged and jonesing for a smoke. He wondered what would happen if he curled up next to the boy, real quiet-like, not touching him or nuthin, just waiting for him to fall asleep.

As a stillness settled over the room, the outside became raucous with sounds of music, fighting, dogs barking, babies crying. Omar's nightly anthem. He felt lonely and piteous. No, he realized...he felt frustrated. He was a man with no plan, and probably no time to come up with one.

So he decided to give in.

No more strategizing.

Just do it.

He leaned back on his haunches and pulled off his sweatshirt, as a wave of righteous entitlement drowned out any second thoughts pounding in his head. Just then the boy sat up and vigorously rubbed at his head.

"Arrrggghhhh!" he yelled. "I can't stand it no more!" He yanked hard at his braids. "I think I might do have bugs! Fuck!" Then he started to cry.

Omar grabbed his wrists and pulled his hands away from his hair, worried the boy was going to pull out one of the braids.

"It ain't bugs, man," he laughed, trying to hold the boy and get him to look him in the eye at the same time. "Ya need to wash your hair, that's all. Ya need to get them braids out."

He settled the boy down but his own heart was pounding. The boy seemed to realize what was happening and wrestled out of Omar's grasp. Their mutual embarrassment expressed itself in a moment of silence.

"They makin' me crazy," the boy said finally, looking away.

"C'mere," Omar instructed. He pulled the boy to him, back to chest. Surreptitiously, he reached under piles of dirty clothes near the mattress and searched until he found a squashed tube of lubricant jelly. He'd learned from past experience that the slippery stuff served multiple purposes.

He massaged the jelly into the boy's scalp until there was no resistance in his body language. Omar tipped his head back and took a good, long look at the boy's face. His eyes were closed and his expression was relaxed. He had a beautiful mouth, fat lip and all. Omar felt every ounce of the boy's slight frame pressing into his chest. He understood that the boy was submitting to him. Omar leaned him forward slightly, rounding his back. His shoulder blades stuck out like the nubs of wings, and every bump of his spine stretched the pale skin translucent. The boy reached up and scratched at his scalp again. Omar gently brushed his hand aside, and took up one of the braids between his fingers. The part of his hair still knotted into braids had been dyed black, in contrast to the natural dark red of his lengthy roots. The boy, or someone, had coated the new growth with waxy coconut balm, maybe in an attempt to twist it into baby dreads. Omar reckoned that the braids were weeks old, and it'd probably been that long since he'd had a good wash.

"You fierce, ain't you?" Omar commented gently. Omar knew a boy who looked like this would have to work it to appear hard. He feared that the true nature of this boy, once it was revealed, would be more than his heart could bear. Which was fine with Omar, he was already halfway sprung with the boy in his present ragged condition. Get him into the shower, work some Nubian Queen Braid & Weave Easy-Out through his hair, or just chop off all them braids entirely and start fresh....

Yeah, sprung was the word.

"This here the worst fuckin day a my life," the boy murmured. Omar smiled at the irony.

Omar let go of the braid and traced a finger down the boy's neck, his chest. His thumb brushed a nipple on its way to his belt buckle. He would have gone further, but the boy intercepted Omar's hand and pushed it aside. But not off. Omar let his hand trace the same route back to the boy's throat, and rested a finger there, feeling his pulse. After a time, he began to pluck away the soldered ends of the boy's braids, one by one.

"Wish't I knew your name," Omar whispered, practically a sigh.

The boy took his time thinking about it. Finally, he answered. "Brandon."

Omar drank it in. Brandon the Terror. He wondered if Brandon could drive.



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