Freddy drew hard on the joint and continued to shake the paint can he held in his right hand. Ruben and Manny were watching. They had his back. He trusted them to sound the alarm if necessary.
For the hundredth time he wondered what the hell he was doing. What was he trying to prove? He took another hit and stood back. In his mind’s eye he could see what he was going to paint. He knew what it would look like and he knew it would take about two cans and a little less than half an hour to complete. But, the question remained; what the hell was he doing? He didn’t owe these west side boys anything so, that being the case he better be doing this for himself.
Another hit, hold the smoke deep, hold the smoke long. He was preparing to write a long winded diatribe about gang life on the west side. At least that was what he hoped people would see, in reality what he planned to paint was an abstract design; an abstract design that resembled the sharp-angled text that other graffiti artists were using these days to deface private property. What he intended to paint would say nothing but he thought it would be pleasing to the eye.
Alfredo knew that he was an artist – not a vandal. He looked down at Manny.
“Ese, Manny,” he called in a stage whisper
Manny looked up and Fredo tossed him the joint. He watched Manny smile when he caught it and then turned to the whitewashed brick wall while removing the top from the paint can.
Smooth, fluid strokes were all that he thought about for 25 minutes and just over two cans of paint. There had been no alarm from either Manny or Ruben while he worked. He jumped off the ladder and Manny moved in to fold it and stash it back in the truck. Fredo and Ruby backed away from the wall and admired the result. Ruby pulled his phone and snapped half a dozen shots and they climbed into the truck where Manny sat waiting. The group moved slowly and silently away from the monochromatic painting into the midnight fog.
The piece lasted exactly ten days before the city eradication team covered it. Alfredo felt pretty good that it had lasted that long. The city usually painted over large works quicker than that. The west side boys were happy because Fredo was one of them, they thought.
Over the course of the next couple of months Freddy kept walking past that wall every couple of weeks. He lusted for that wall. It was a perfect canvas and he longed to put some “real art” there. He wanted to work with more than a single color on that wall. He knew he could do it justice.
One day, about four months after his work first appeared there, he walked by. He wanted to sit and indulge his craving, at least with his imagination but the walkway was blocked off and a crew was digging, setting forms and looking like they were planning to take his perfect spot away from him.
“What are you guys doing?” he asked an uptight white guy with a clipboard.
“Prepping the site for some kind of public art project,” the guy said then he walked away. He either didn’t want to share any more information or he didn’t know anything more. Fredo suspected the latter. He spit on the ground to show his disdain for the pendejo and moved on. It was a couple of weeks later before he got back and found the sculpture.
Fredo knew what it was. He puffed his chest out a bit before he sat to study it. He watched it and the reactions of the passersby all afternoon. It was beautiful. The tapering line weights looked exactly as he had originally done it. As evening slid over the area like a glove he made note of the LED lighting that was positioned to feature the sculpture. Now there were two; the sculpture itself and the shadow of the same on the wall that he had lusted after for so long. Freddy sat there until it was good and dark before he called Ruby.
“Do you still have those photos of the work we did here a few months back?” he asked.
“Of course,” Ruben told him.
“Bring your phone and get your skinny ass down here,” Alfredo said and he terminated the connection.
Ruby got there about half an hour later with Tomás and Guillermo. They flanked Freddy and they all stared at the sculpture.
“Wow,” Ruby said softly and he pulled up the photos he had taken all those months ago with Freddy and Manny. The sculpture was an exact copy of what Freddy had originally painted on the wall. He showed it around, but now it was sanctioned by the authorities. Nobody was going to paint this bad boy out.
The next morning Freddy went looking for Ramon Ramirez, who according to the brass plaque at the base of his design was the sculptor. Fredo knew he had a lot to learn and he wanted to start today.