"Ain't nobody up here," said Derek, looking across the weedy field, the American flag flying on a white mast throwing a wavy shadow on the lawn.
"I'm gonna pick some porichia for my mom," said Billy.
Derek and Billy went up a steep grade to its crest, where several cannons sat spaced in a row. The grade dropped to a deep gully that ran along the northern line of the fort. Beside one of the cannons grew patches of spindly plants with hard stems. Billy pulled a few of the plants and shook the dirt off the roots.
"Thought your mama liked them dandelion weeds."
"That's rodichia. These here are good, too. You gotta get 'em before they flower, though, 'cause then they're too bitter. Let's go give 'em to her and get something to drink."
Billy lived in a slate-roofed, copper-guttered brick colonial on the 1300 block of Somerset, a few blocks west of the park. In contrast with the row houses of Park View and Petworth, the houses here were detached, with flat, well-tended front lawns. The streets were heavy with Italians and Greeks. The Deoudes family lived on Somerset, as did the Vondas family, and up on Underwood lived a wiry kid named Bobby Boukas, whose parents owned a flower shop. All were members of Billy's church, St. Sophia. On Tuckerman stood the house where midget actor Johnny Puleo, who had played in the Lancaster-Curtis circus picture, Trapeze, stayed for much of the year. Puleo drove a customized Dodge with wood blocks fitted to the gas and brake pedals.
On the way to the Georgelakos house, Derek stopped to pet a muscular tan boxer who was usually chained outside the front of the Deoudes residence. The dog's name was Greco. Greco sometimes walked with the police at night on their foot patrols and was known to be quick, loyal, and tough.
Derek got down on his haunches and let Greco smell his hand. The dog pushed his muzzle into Derek's fingers, and Derek patted his belly and rubbed behind his ears.
"Crazy," said Billy.
"What you mean?"
"Usually he rises up and shows his teeth."
"To colored boys, right?"
"He likes me." Derek's eyes softened as he admired the dog. "One day, I'ma get me one just like him, too."
Copyright © 2004 by George Pelecanos
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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