It’s Turk’s week to watch Higgins. The Wednesday before our match, one of his goons, a fifth-grader called Fats, brings me a rabbit ear in saran wrap. I’m alone on the swings – my girl Emily’s stuck inside, punishment for biting again.
“Friday you take a dive,” Fats says. “Turk loves his cat’s eye. If he lost it, well. Bad news for Higgins.”
You win enough rounds of marbles, you lose a lot of friends. Higgins is the only person I can still talk to, and he’s a rabbit. Him and my girl Emily, that is, but she’s in special needs, diagnosed with ‘violent attachment disorder.’
“I don’t take dives,” I tell Fats. “I just shoot marbles.”
He chuckles. “Good. I always liked rabbit stew.”
* * *
I sit with Emily on the bus. We don’t have much time – she’s the third stop – but I tell her my dilemma. She pulls a compass from her backpack.
“I stole this today,” she says. “Who needs stabbed?”
“Won’t help,” I tell her. “Not as long as he’s got Higgins.”
She nods. “Then take the dive. We can stab him when the rabbit’s safe.”
I admire Emily’s logic, but today it’s flawed. “I have pride,” I say. “He practices marbles on polished stone floors. I practice in the streets. Guy like that shouldn’t win.”
“Maybe you’ll get lucky,” says Emily. “Maybe you’ll actually lose. You get nervous enough, maybe you’ll choke.”
And that gives me the idea.
* * *
Friday. Turk’s waiting at recess on the edge of the chalk ring, his marbles already down. I add mine. A group gathers, including Fats, holding a little package so thickly saran-wrapped you’d never know what was inside.
Turk grins like a Jack-o-lantern, orange freckles and missing teeth. “Ready for this?”
I shake my head, but not at him. Emily’s behind his shoulder, compass glinting with sunlight. Turk laughs at me.
“Good,” he says. “Glad you’re shitting yourself.”
He’s wearing his lucky Pikachu fanny-pack, from which he removes his fat glass shooter. Mine’s in my pocket. We begin.
It’s not even close. I won’t let it be. I take his baby-blues. I take his sunbursts. I take his blank-empties. And then it’s down to the last marble, the one I’ve saved for last – the cat’s eye.
“You sure you want this?” he sneers.
I don’t look up. He asks again, I ignore him. Then he lowers his head to the pavement, trying to force me to see him.
“Hey,” he shouts. “I said, are you sure-”
I shoot. The marble sails through the missing teeth and catches in his throat, so fast nobody else is sure what’s happened – they just watch, confused, as he grabs his neck and panics.
I stand, tell him the same thing Emily told me.
“Get nervous, Turk, and sometimes you choke.”