The Kid with the Silver Gun

Illustration by Tim Milk

Some time last year, I was in line at a smoke-stand to play lotto when the man ahead of me suddenly turned from the cashier and said: “Hey, do you remember me?”

I looked him up and down. A typical neighborhood guy, a deli and bodega guy, about sixty or so. “He doesn’t remember,” he laughed to his friend behind the counter. “Well, I remember you! A long time ago you used to buy cigarettes from me. On 14th Street! Remember?”

I squinted. I drew a blank. “You don’t remember? I can’t believe it. Surely you remember that day!”

That day?

“Not even that one day? Oh my goodness! That day! You were held up that day. Right there in my store! By the kid with the silver gun!”

It all came rushing back to me: a spring day, 1981. This guy had just sold me a pack of Camels when an audacious young voice arose from my side: “Hey mister, you got any money?”

I looked down to see this boy, not quite thirteen years old, with a face so angelic it belonged on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. “Well, not today,” I told him, “Sorry.”

The boy smirked. “No problem. I got money. Wanna see?” He then pulled from his pocket a whopping stack of fifties. He fanned them in my face so I could glory in his wealth. I had heard that drug dealers were making mules out of kids, but not until now did I make the connection.

“Wanna know how I got it?” he asked.

Something told me not to say one more thing. But in an instant that didn’t matter, because suddenly he drew a silver revolver from out of his jacket and aimed it right between my eyes.

A .38 is as big as that: it was not a toy. One could see the evil tooling of the pistol, and smell the burn of its caliber. Like a dope, I put up my hands. He laughed.

“Call the police!” I begged of my pal the bodega guy.

“I don’t want to get involved,” he said, and shrank away from the gun.

There was something indescribable in the kid’s manner that suggested “Yeah, give me a reason and I’ll blow you away.” The lad made a show of cocking the gun and waving it about. Horrified bystanders whimpered and shivered. All eyes followed his hand as he turned back to point it square at my chest. For a moment he stood there, but then seemed to think twice and put it away. “You better get ready,” he said firmly. “I’ll be waiting for you outside.” It was as if this was a movie, and he was the star.

Terrified, I stalled and pleaded with this guy to call the police. “It’s no use,” he said, shaking his head, and that was so true back in those days. The cops dreaded calls from East 14th, and it was very unlikely they would come to my rescue. Eventually, after an hour, like a marked man, I stepped out to meet my death. But the kid was gone.

I laid low for a couple of days, and then after dark I ventured out only to run into a friend who lived a block west. “Are you kidding?” he said when I told him my story, “That kid held me up yesterday morning!”

In the dog days that followed that summer, it was all in the papers how a jogger was murdered in East River Park. The heat came down hard in Alphabet City, and after a week we heard that the kid with the gun was now behind bars. Because of his age, his fate in the courts was not released to the press.

As the years went by, I would ever again parse out my feelings when the kid came to mind. He had truly made his mark, but the end result was utterly tragic. Often I wondered how his life played out, and why he had spared me my own that day. Did he waste his youth in prison? Was he still in prison today? Did he, could he, ever find himself? Was any redemption offered, any mercy shown him?

My friend who so long ago sold me my cigarettes was truly amazed. He misconstrued, and then laughed aloud at the disconcerted expression that played on my face.

“Can you believe that? He forgot the whole thing! What a world, eh? The damn kid nearly shot him, I swear to god! The kid with the silver gun!”