The incident occurred three blocks later, at 13th and Walnut.
As he was crossing the intersection, Treat’s eyes stared ahead, assessing the upcoming sidewalk as a running back on a football team might assess the positions of the opposition. He’d learned from his tenure as a city resident to always look downfield. The thugs were of various ethnicity, approximately twenty feet distant. Neither coming nor going, they stood unmoving, pieces of the city’s infrastructure. Treat gazed momentarily at their matching denim jackets. Gang bangers. Neighborhood keeps getting worse, he thought, then looked away.
The hot sun continued to burn rooftops and pavements. No more than five feet distant Treat noticed a white man of medium build, mid-30s. The man wore a Hawaiian shirt and stood holding his mobile in his right hand. Treat felt a sense that something was not quite right, an inescapable feeling of imminent disaster. It seemed to Treat that the city felt this as well. It seemed to expand and contract around him, breathing heavily with a lover’s anticipation. Against the light and into oncoming traffic Treat hurried to the south side of the intersection. From the north side of the street one of the youths yelled, “Faggot!” to Hawaiian Shirt.
“What did you just call me?” Hawaiian Shirt asked once, then twice, with clenched fists.
This exchange escalated briefly before three of the gang members charged at Hawaiian Shirt. Pedestrians quickly sidestepped the trio. The noises of the city—vehicles, chatter, music, and the wailing of subway trains beneath sidewalk grates—each of these sounds and more paused and bowed before the ages-old crash of violence as multiple fists pounded Hawaiian Shirt like thunder. The incident ended as quickly as it had begun as the gang, having successfully pummeled its prey, retreated to the safety of its brethren.
Hawaiian Shirt slowly pushed himself off the ground, holding his face with one hand and reaching for his mobile with the other. A series of slurs followed as the gang members departed. The sounds of the city returned: A dozen car horns. A motorcycle engine backfiring. Banal conversations detailing weekend plans. Hawaiian Shirt tried dialing 911 but the phone was dead. Wiping the blood from his face with a sleeve, he began to approach the numerous pedestrians who passed by, for help. No one stopped. Treat was only one block from Broad, but he lingered across 13th behind, a safe distance behind the gang members. He felt no urgency to fall into their line of vision even though he needed to move at a good clip in case the 9 bus was waiting. He glanced back and saw Hawaiian Shirt talking with a female parking authority employee. The frown on her face was all telling. She knew the police could do nothing. Gang violence was as much a part of Combustible as commerce. There was plenty of both and no shortage of customers.
NEXT: Skylined continues.