(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Tommy Lawson is strolling through the deserted streets of Homewood, a once populous black community now demarcated by boarded-up buildings and cracked sidewalks. Both he and the city streets share a legacy of tough, charismatic individuals: from Tommy’s grandfather John French, who jived and jitterbugged until he “got too old and got saved,” to the ice-ball vendor Mr. Strayhorn, who in his youth garnered such a reputation that no one yet will shake him down for money. However, now neither the young man nor the blocks where he bebopped have bright futures. Homewood has become a no-man’s-land since the 1960’s riots, so Tommy shoots pool with the junkies and assorted drifters in the Velvet Slipper.

Today, however, Tommy stalks the Avenue, lost in reminiscence, for he has found a way to escape. He and his running buddy, Ruchell, whose full-time occupation is getting as high as possible, plan to finance their flight by swindling a crooked car-salesperson. They have alerted this hustler, Indovina, to a truckload of stolen television sets that they will deposit at his business for a fee. (Actually, nothing is in their borrowed van except carpeting left there by its owner.) While Tommy closes the deal inside the white man’s office, Ruchell will stand guard by the goods. Then, as Indovina’s bodyguard Chubby approaches to inspect the cache, Ruchell will corner him with a gun. Tommy simultaneously will hold up Indovina. Certain that the Italian will...

(The entire section is 447 words.)