The crow flock’s density formed a solid shadow wherever it passed above the city streets—Cimmerian streets—deserted (for the most part), aglow dimly (in the gathering dusk), from oil lamps, candles, small-scale bonfires, with occasional floodlit patches fueled by battery-operated generators, one of which obliterated the swooping formation, its identity lost like sight to an incandescent flashcube. The birds continued, blinking away their temporary blindness, patrolling Night’s sky stealthily, black on black.

Left behind, the hot spot glowed with an arc-light intensity, flattening three dimensions into a stage-set-like two, half a dozen storefronts illumined in a block that once sported many, mountainous piles of uncollected garbage lining the curbsides. Power shortages having changed abruptly to power outages, the timid, the sensible, the law abiding people stayed home, abandoning after-dark environments to more aggressive, reckless, criminal types, plus teenagers, thrill-seekers, insomniacs, musicians (a whole host of folks, in fact, from every socioeconomic strata), all milling among the indigent to brave whatever risks were unleashed and loomed at large—magnified by the inauspicious lack of luminescence.

Flashlights flickering (here, there, everywhere, typically in clusters) roved about like firefly swarms, their winking beams lending a curious syncopation to heels struck on pavement (by loners, couples, fraternities) the dearth of overall wattage and paucity of "clicks" rendering each pedestrian gravely conspicuous—females especially (if clad in fashionable footwear). One such approached the hot spot with a brisk don’t-mess-with-me stride, escorted (the young lady was bold, not foolhardy) by a boyfriend, marginally taller, who walked at her side aloofly; theirs was not a serious relationship, thus did not reinforce the male’s inclination to prove his metal—should the band of boom-box-toting Crack-heads monopolizing an up-ahead corner choose to prove theirs, demand some token of deference their ruthless existences seldom merited.

"Spare change?" was the opening challenge, issued by one of six athletic-jacketed, droopy-drawered, gum-snapping delinquents, this brute intent on showing his groupie ‘bros’ just who was boss.

"Sorry, man," the boyfriend answered, in as neutral and inoffensive a tone as he could project.

"How ’bouts a smoke?"

The boyfriend did have a spare cigarette. In fact, having vowed earlier that day to kick the habit (after accidentally putting a Marlboro into his mouth, lit-end first, three times), he was eager to oblige.

"Here; take the whole pack."

More suspicious than grateful, the Crack-head, in accepting what he regarded as ‘partial payment due,’ maintained his sidewalk-hogging stance, blocking the couple’s path while he un-pocketed a Zippo lighter. Its ignition under-lit features casehardened by raw deals and racism (among other ‘charm-engendering’ factors), a phiz determined to ‘extort’ displays of respect that otherwise went unearned.

"May we go now?" interjected the woman, disinclined to betray her tummy’s knot of fear.

"SHIT!" yelled the Crack-head, holding open his mouth like the hood of an overheating Buick, tongue extended to air its first-degree burn (self-inflicted, having also taken a drag from the butt’s wrong end).

Laughter escaped the woman (before she could button her indiscreet pucker), redefining her status: potential dupe turned surefire casualty.

"I’ gonna pop you, Bitch," the Crack-head retorted, drawing a snub-nosed pistol and pressing its barrel behind the woman’s multiply-pierced left ear—a movement rousing amusement in the would-be accomplices.

Panic seizing the boyfriend, piss shamed his slacks.

"Hey, whoa, hey," he managed to choke from a gone-dry gullet (things had gotten so quickly, so absurdly out of hand/why, oh why, had they taken this direction/what had he been thinking when he asked this girl for a date/where in Hell could they escape to now) his thoughts, in frantic succession, overlapping, wave on wave, until the soles of his feet felt set in the sidewalk’s cement.

The Crack-head, meanwhile, enumerated options for taking revenge:

1. Impress his pals by pulling the trigger (and thereby wiping off those condescending smirks that doubted his nerve);

2. Exact his pound of payback by yanking out a hank of the hostage’s bleach-blond hair;

3. Bring Whitey to her lily-livered knees in patent demonstration of Black supremacy;

or 4. Turn the deadly weapon from its trembling, terrified target to the selfsame spot behind his own bejeweled ear, despite the blaring contradiction of it, acting on an impulse that implied, instead of ‘offing’ her, he execute…


… himself.

The bullet found its terminus in a brain absorbing metal like an ampoule of injected sodium cyanide; thus dispatched, the Crack-head toppled to the pavement as his ‘loyal’ gang retreated (lest proximity serve to implicate them who watched but did not shoot), the boy and girlfriend likewise hasty in their stutter-step departure from a scene unseen except by him whose amber-tinted gaze beheld the curtain’s close with vision forevermore vacant.