Beanie rolled up on his bike, sprayed gravel with a skid-stop. I could tell he’d gone and done the shit by the way he wore his shirt unbuttoned. Stone Cold tee underneath.
“What I tell you?” he said. He hadn’t quite caught his breath.
“Anyone see?” I said. I stood at the lip of the lake with a line in the water. Nothing to show for it, like usual.
“What you think?” Beanie said. He walked his bike down the embankment, grinning like the villain he wished he was.
“I think you’re hungry for the back of a squad car.”
“Nah,” he said. “Smell my fingers.”
I recast, sent the line in a graceful S overhead, let it fall with a soft pop in the bottle-green water. Beanie put his forefinger under my nose like he’d just gotten laid.
“You wore gloves,” I said.
“Course,” Beanie scoffed. “I’m a pro.”
“It’ll take them all night to put it out,” I said.
“Isn’t that the point?”
“The point is to create, not destroy.”
“In that case, call me Picasso.”
Beanie let his bike fall into the dead grass near where I stood, belched.
“Lemme see that,” he said. He took the rod from my hand. “You’re in the wrong spot.”
He cranked the reel, whipped the rod over his shoulder and sent the line hissing towards a shaded spot near the tree line to our right. He’d always been better than me at almost everything, ever since we were kids. It wasn’t the reason we were drifting away from each other; I chalked that up to Beanie’s unquenchable thirst to be somebody. He was on a mission to see what he was capable of.
“You could’ve at least been lookout,” he said. He reeled the line, gave it some slack.
“I knew you were going to do it either way. Besides, I’ve got two strikes.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Beanie said. “You won’t let me forget it.”
There was a time he was impressed. I was better at stealing, the one thing where I had his number. That is until I picked an off-duty cop on the crosstown bus. Lost the juju after that. Got pinched again after I finished community service, spent six months in a group home. That was around the time Beanie dropped out. Meanwhile, I managed to get myself back on track to graduate. It’ll be two years late, but still.
“How’d you light the Styrofoam?” I wanted to know.
“Same way I showed you,” he said. “Bic and a bottle of fluid. You act like it’s hard.”
“Place just went right up?”
“You’ll read about it,” Beanie said. With his free hand, he retrieved a pack of smokes from the pocket of his open flannel, shook one free, took it in his lips. I stepped forward and lit it for him. He didn’t thank me.
He thought it would make a difference, stop them from sending recruiters to the high school. “It’s a poke in the chest,” he’d said. But we both knew he’d enlist anyway. The ultimate alibi. Not that he had any other options.
Beanie let the cigarette burn down to the filter, flicked the butt into the water where it whispered like a secret. Then his line jumped.
“Shit,” he said. He pulled the line tight, cranked the reel, let it run, then cranked it again, more forcefully this time, until a crappie flailed and sparkled in the dying light. Beanie brought it in, unhooked it, held it between his thumb and forefinger and spit into the dirt.
“Handsome one,” I said.
“Usually things gotta burn to be beautiful,” he said.
He was on the verge of wasting his life, wasting others probably. I’d seen him transfixed by the sparklers at his fifth birthday party, back when his parents were alive, back before fire became a fixation. Now I wondered if I’d ever see him again.
“I think I hear sirens,” I said.
“No one was inside in case you’re wondering,” he said. “Made sure of it. I’m no psycho.” He tossed the fish back into the water with a muted splash. His face softened as he watched it dart away. “Wonder if that fish knows how lucky he is.”
Violence never agreed with Beanie, as much as he wanted it to. I nearly told him so. I wondered when he’d get shipped out, pictured him in the baking desert with cold metal in his hands.
“It took a second to catch,” he said, handed me back my rod. “But when it did? You should’ve seen it.”
He was quiet a minute, studied the fading horizon. He looked older than he ever had. I had a feeling if he met my eye he’d start to cry. “You think they got good sunsets over there?” he said.
“Bet they’re way better than this one,” I lied. Beanie’s survival depended on it.
“Shit, if not?” Beanie said, making an effort to harden his voice. “I’ll just make my own.”