by C D Pulley
A gang harasses a store owner for three years-Edited
When the Red Jackets entered Mr. Younis’s grocery store, they began a dance they had been doing for three years. They glided around his store in their bright red jackets, jet black ponytails and red lipstick, taking food off the shelves. They talked to each other in Spanish and in English, as if they were at a party instead of in a public place. The customers in the store began to leave, one by one, as the Red Jackets encountered them on their travel from aisle to aisle. They ate chips, cookies, and sweets as they walked the store.
When the Red Jackets began to make their departure, Mr. Younis tried to stop them with his heavy Yiddish accent, “You have to pay for that. This is not a soup kitchen. You girls need to learn some respect,” he said in a tall voice for a very stout man.
“Vete a la mierda!,” “I ain’t payin for shit!,” “Callate!” was yelled by 12 young ladies at the same time in two languages. The last Red Jacket to leave was Gold. Her jet-black ponytail had one difference from the rest of the ladies; she had a natural blonde streak that started at the back of her neck and went right to the end of her ponytail. She watched Mr. Younis and her girls from one of the aisles while they danced together. As the last few ladies cleared the threshold, shouting at Mr. Younis as they went, Gold left the aisle and followed the girls’ path. She stopped at the counter, smiled at him and walked out. Mr. Younis ended the dance with ‘Those damn girls.’
The Red Jackets were formed about the same time Mr. Younis moved to Upstate New York. They were thieves, hustlers, drug dealers and prostitutes. Gold knew where all her girls were at all times. She didn’t tolerate disrespect. She made sure everyone ate and she protected them. Mr. Younis thought Upstate New York would be a quiet and peaceful place. His wife, Chavva, was gone, his children lived all over the country and many of his friends had passed away. He was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Brooklyn, married in Brooklyn and raised his children in Brooklyn. The plan was always to retire to Upstate New York and live out his days in a quiet community with Chavva. He had not planned on moving to Upstate New York alone, but Chavva whispered to him in his dreams. She told him, their dream was still alive, even without her. His children tried to convince him to live with them, and the few friends he had left offered a place for him to stay. After the dreams, his mind was made up.
When the gang came to the store for the first time, Mr. Younis didn’t think anything of it. They smiled at him, looked around the store and left without buying anything, but they were the first to come into the store when it opened its doors. Soon after, they started the ritual that continues today. When it first happened, Mr. Younis didn’t say anything because he was so shocked. After a few times, he started to yell at them about paying and messing up his shelves. Everyone in the neighborhood knew what was going on in the market on the corner, and they felt sorry for Mr. Younis. But that was the extent of their involvement. The neighbors had seen what the Red Jackets were capable of doing. They had taken down men other men would never confront. They may be good looking, but they were ruthless. The neighborhood said nothing and watched the Red Jackets and Mr. Younis do their dance with averted eyes.
The Red Jackets were constantly being challenged by other male-dominated gangs. It was never over territory, but just to show their perceived strength. The constant fighting was exhausting, but it did help to give the Red Jackets a reputation. They usually didn’t start fights but they never backed down from a challenge. Their consistent challenger was the Bottle Boys. They were all about the same age as the Red Jackets. Their leader was a 23-year-old pockmarked faced young man named Danny who would have been cute except for the acne. It was rumored he got to the top by killing everyone else in power. That was only a rumor, and most did not believe it. There was only one man in his way, and he went to prison. Danny was the default person because of his relationship with the former leader. That is how he is believed to have gotten the job.
The Red Jackets had never crossed the Bottle Boys. They knew their territory lines, minded their own businesses and didn’t engage in rumors. No one ever knew why Danny didn’t like the Red Jackets, but many suspected he was jealous of their success, which accounted for the constant provocations.
Although they were criminals, all the gangs followed a code. The Bottle Boys decided they didn’t want to follow it anymore or at least their leader didn’t. The Bottle Boys had made a fatal mistake with a distributor, and the distributor killed one of their members. The Red Jackets convinced the distributor to work with them, instead. When Danny found this out, he was incensed for days. His members offered him drink, they offered him smoke, they even offered him women but he wanted none of it. For three days no one in Bottle Boys could do anything right. They all knew why he was angry, but not what he would do about it. Then on the fourth day, the Bottle Boys came to the Red Jackets’ neighborhood and their first and only stop was Mr. Younis’s store. They didn’t just take some things from the shelves and push over some end caps; they beat Mr. Younis badly and tore apart his store. When the Bottle Boys were finished, Mr. Younis had two black eyes, a bloody nose, a gash on his left cheek that needed stitches, two broken ribs, a fractured leg and a broken toe on his right foot. Inside the store, glass cases were broken, food was spilled, money was taken and shelves were overturned.
While they were taking Mr. Younis out of the store to the ambulance, Gold watched from the shadows. The rest of the Red Jackets watched from the roofs of the nearby buildings. The streets were already talking about what happened, but Gold already knew who did it. When the ambulance and the police were not in sight and they could no longer hear their sirens, Gold got the Red Jackets and went looking for the Bottle Boys.
It was one of the most violent fights anyone had seen in a long time. Those who saw it thought more people would have died that day. Danny had his skull split open, one young man was stabbed to death, and others had various cuts, bruises, and broken bones. The ladies didn’t lose anyone, but many of them did go to the hospital with similar injuries. There were so many gang members in the hospital, the head nurse called the police and three police officers patrolled the emergency room while the gang members were being stitched up. Gold was arrested. She took responsibility for the stabbing, although it was Marisol who actually killed the young man. Marisol was underage and would probably get less time, but Gold knew what prison (even a short sentence) would do to a young woman. She would be fine in prison.
When Mr. Younis came home from the hospital, everyone clamored to be the first to tell him what happened to the Red Jackets. He got the DA to let him see Stella, who he only knew as Gold. He sat across from her in his wheelchair for a few seconds in the little small visitors’ room at the county jail.
‘Why did you do this? You and your gang have been harassing me for years.”
Stella looked into his eyes for a long time. Mr. Younis almost turned his wheelchair around to leave because he thought she was not going to answer him.
“That’s our store, and you never called the cops. For three years you never called the cops on us. That’s our store and you are ours too.”
Mr. Younis, who was leaning forward when Stella began to speak, fell back in his wheelchair. He never called the cops.