The Bean War
The six of us bumped into Conan and company on a grey Saturday afternoon right after baseball practice. We were headed down Broadway, walking Jackie to music class when in the opposite direction came the entire Mets little league team with sinful grins shining bright and the devil in their mist, egging them on. They spotted us first and ducking behind some cars sprayed us with pellets. The first one hit Flaco in his neck. The second, third and fourth shots were already making welts on our arms and chests by the time we reacted. We hustled across the street, hunkered down behind cover, and fired. Beans from both sides slammed against car windows like heavy rain.
We’d been in shootouts like this before but there was something different about this one. Not only were we outnumbered, two-to-one, but here was a scent in the air that we could taste, an electric current that raised the hairs on our arms and charged the blood in our veins. It was enough to make our mouths dry and our asses tighten. I was firing beans without thinking, a smile on my face as the devil appeared on my shoulder and started cheering me on. “Shoot papí, shoot, muwahahaha!” My hands operated on their own. Sounds, smells, and even pain seemed magnified. My vision became narrow. I could only see the shooter in my hand and the Puerto Rican kid I was aiming at.
Every shot we took was met with a shower of beans from the other side of the street. Not shooting back encouraged them to creep closer. We’d have to let our beans fly just to send them running back to their cover. The only way to keep the other kids at bay was to load two to three beans into our shooters, and then we started running out of beans. Flaco suggested that we make a break for it.
“No way, José,” I said. “We’re not going to run from these mamaguevos, cocksuckers.”
“But I’m down to my last few beans,” said Gregorio.
“I don’t care. Pick them up from the floor if you have to, but keep shooting.” I could see the fear in his eyes. All of them had it. Even my hand was shaking, but I couldn’t walk away. All I could think of was Conan laughing and calling us plátanos. I wanted to hit him with a bean right in his fat face and I wasn’t leaving until I did.
Beans flew overhead. Some smacked into the car. Others ricocheted off lampposts and street signs. Conan took advantage of the mêlée and ran over to our side of the block. He hid behind a black and white Monte Carlo blasting us from the side while his boys got us from the front. I fired off two beans in Conan’s direction. Outgunned the six of us started talking about what to do. The Cepeda twins were ready to stick it out as long as I was. Jackie, Gregorio, and Flaco looked at each other and without a word Jackie and Gregorio decided to stay. Flaco left. Aramis spit on the ground and called Flaco a coward. Both he and Adonis wore to kick Flaco’s ass the next time they saw him. “Forget‘em,” I said. “He’s scared. But we have to show these guys we’re not.” I was trying to sound brave, but I knew that as soon as we ran out of ammo those guys were going to run up and rain hell on us. One bean smack stung like crazy, I could only imagine what a hundred felt like. Conan crept up a car closer, while Anthony and of the rest their crew crossed the street. Conan was so close I could hear his grunt-laugh. “We’re gonna get you,” he yelled out. “Get ready for a bean bath.”
We checked our pockets to see how many beans we had left. Between the five of us, only a few. “Hold on I have an idea,” I said. I popped my head out from behind the car. “Okay, we give up. You guys win.” The other side sent a hail of beans as their response. I stood up. “Yo, come on chill. I’m on your team.”
“We ain’t got no dirty plátanos on our team,” said Conan firing a bean at my head. I ducked back down behind the car and grabbed my bat. Jackie shook his head. He vetoed any plan that meant smacking some in the head with a bat.
When our last bean was gone, I picked up some beans from the ground and fired them. The guys did the same but once those beans were used up, there was nothing on the ground except broken glass, small pieces of gravel, and our bats. My hand inched toward mine. Jackie stopped me. The guys wanted to run for it. “Go. I’ll catch up.” But I had no intention of leaving. I was going to make my stand there.
“Fine, then we all stay,” said Jackie. We each grabbed our bats. Conan and those guys started closing in. He had figured that we didn’t have any more beans so he stood up and got ready to rush us. His guys hesitated.
“Those mamabichos, pussy lickers might be faking,” yelled Raymond.
“Come on! I’m telling you they don’t have nothing. Watch, I’ll prove it.” He stormed in our direction, bean shooter cocked and ready to fire just in case this was a trick. I tightened my grip on my bat. A few feet more and he would’ve been on top of us. But before Conan could reach us, a bean cracked him in his left cheek and he cried out grabbing his face.
“I told you,” yelled Raymond from behind his car. The first shot was followed by another and then a few more. Conan turned around and ran back to his boys. From behind us we heard the thunder of running feet. We looked back and saw Flaco followed by the rest of the boys from Los Pesaos. They took cover behind cars and started gunning pellet hell on the Puerto Rican kids.
“You miss me?” asked Flaco, handing us beans. He told us later on that he was almost home when he remembered that some of Los Pesaos played ball over at P.S. 19. So he went and got them.
Los Pesaos changed the momentum. The Puerto Rican kids were now out gunned. Yet they kept battling, refusing to be run off, but eventually their ammo ran out. Like me, Conan wouldn’t leave. He didn’t have a bat but he had his pork chop fists. He raised them in the air and daring anyone from our side to shoot a bean at him. For a few seconds everything stopped. The force of Conan’s threat hung in the air. We all wanted to smack the redhead in the mouth but few wanted to face the consequences. I peeked out from my cover and there he was standing on the sidewalk, big as a hill, baby fat hiding the large muscles in his arms, eyes shooting death rays, lips snarling. I was about to call his bluff when Conan grabbed his face and cursed out in pain. I looked back and there was Flaco laughing and high-fiving Gregorio.
“That’s for messing up my ankle last year,” he said.
“I’m gonna kill you,” said Conan, heading toward us. We all raised our shooters and let beans fly. Conan tried to run through them but it was like running through a swarm of hornets. He got stung everywhere on his body and was forced to go back to his guys. None of them had beans so they ran away.
We chased them. I was in the front of the pack, smacking the Mets players with gandules. They’d made it clear I was not with them. I was an intruder, a foreign kid who forced his way on to their team and took a spot on the field from one of their guys. They would never accept me. I was running with Los Pesaos and despite the fact that I had ruined their season last year, they were fighting with me.