An excerpt from
Rosie's stomach is starting to show, I don't know if it's because she's actually eating three meals a day or if it's a growing baby.
Sunlight is filtering into our room, making the grains in the rich wood of the furniture stand out, slashing across the bed, hallowing Rosie's face, still deep asleep and looking like she's about twelve years old. I feel like my chest is gonna explode. So much feeling that I can't identify and don't think I can contain. Feels like I want to pull her inside me, protect her from life, and I know there's no way to do it. No matter what I do it's all a roll of the dice, sometimes ya win, other times...
Rising as silently as I can, choosing a T-shirt and a clean pair of jeans, pulling my combat boots on, checking the clip in my piece and putting it into my back pocket.
Look into the mirror and run my fingers through my hair, and know that my fear shows on my face.
Start my morning ablutions: spoon, eyedropper, needle, and medicine. The blood gushes into the outfit like salvation, as I squeeze the dropper it empties into my veins, liquid Jesus taking my fears and troubles, scattering them to the wind like dust in a typhoon.
Staring back into the mirror and looking good, calm, strong. Ready for whatever flavor of hell I might have to sample. Running a comb through my hair 'cause it is still sticking up, cleaning my rig, the mundane action, my daily ritual, is thoughtless, soothing.
Looking down at Rosie, feelings almost in control, grab my bankroll and walk over to the bed. Frozen staring down at her, the light breath barely indenting her pillow. She's more than perfect. I lean over, kiss her stomach, lightly touch her face, and whisper, 'See you two in a minute."
Take a cab to the Exodus. Arriving in daylight is all different. The paint on the outside is trashed, the sign askew. Going through the door, the sunlight cutting through the darkness reigning within, pot and incense hitting me like a friendly invisible wall, the dim light and rock and roll enfolding me like a warm comforter.
Pausing to let my eyes adjust, finding the gorilla-like shape of Mel slouched in a sofa. Scanning the rest of the room for possible hostiles and then sauntering, almost a pimp stroll across the room, conscious of my every movement. Lowering myself into an easy chair and asking, "So whatcha gotta do to get a cup of coffee?"
"Tie off, waitress will be by."
"Cool. Check it out, stud, I don't know what to do about Jewels. Got any ideas?"
"Yeah. Nothin', don't do nothing. If he tries to move on you he's gotta hit all of us. That doesn't make sense for him. So he's gotta be pissed. So what? Fuck him in his faggot neck. You did the right thing, Bobbie. Did what I shoulda done. Homeboy went all the way off the wire."
"You said it, he went all the way off. That shit made no sense . What makes ya think he won't nut up again?"
Looking at Mel, slouched, not shaved, wearing a buckskin vest with no shirt, elephant hells, stomach coming over his belt. He reaches for his coffee with one ham-sized fist, drinks it, and sits up straight, making the muscles in his chest dance; flexing one tree trunk arm he says, "Don't write me off, kid, my act is kinda ragged right now hut if anyone fucks with us I'll take their wind. Emis!"
"Yeah, mazel tov and all that shit. Mel, I don't trust the motherfucker anymore. I can park a slug in a motherfucker, you know that. I gotta tell ya this situation makes me hinky."
"I know pal, I don't like it either. Gonna meet my man Black Cloud in a minute or two and get new ID. Pick up our end of the dough tonight and head for Cleveland. End of story. Jewels can go all the way looney tunes. Who gives a shit? This time tomorrow we'll be driving matching Cads hundreds of miles from here."
"Yeah, ace. One ivory, one black. You get your choice ... anything ya want except the black one." The laughing nut that's resurfaced is unbeatable. Mel has the force that was there when we first met. The laughter that I feel staffing in my belly is as much relief as anything else. Maybe I'll live to drive this ivory-colored, leather-seated piece of iron."
"Who's Black fuckin' Cloud?"
"A fixer, good for IDs, hot cars with paper, guns, whatever. Knows a couple jobs in Ohio that might be OK. Should be here soon. Not a bad guy for ya to know. He's good people, kill a motherfucker in a minute."
"Cool. How come the handle?"
"Dude's a righteous Indian, fuckin' Apache." Mel's leaning forward waving at the waitress, looks back at me. "Into it, too, weird ceremonies, taking scalps, the whole deal."
The waitress floats to our table, eyes dilated, tripping. Plain Midwestern farm girl in hippie garb inside and out. "Huh. I mean, yeah. What you guys want?"
A voice behind her booms, "Coffees, baby, gotta get that caffeine buzz. Ran out of crank. Ya got any? I'm coming down, sweetheart, been awake for a week, get us that mud and check on some speed for me OK, baby cakes?"
Whatever she's on has got a road block erected between her and the rest of the world. There's no response ass he drifts away in the direction of the counter.
The owner of the foghorn voice drops onto the sofa next to Mel and says, "Move over, fatty, either that or set your big butt in my lap and suck on my ear for an hour or two."
Mel does a slow take on this guy, tattoos all over circling his neck and running down his chest, up and down both arms, face pitted by hard living and hard time. Glasses magnifying eyes that are happily psychotic. No shirt, dirty jeans, and engineer boots. Got a knife hanging off his belt that must be two feet long and Mel smiles, first with his eyes, then his whole face. "Hot fucking shit in a champagne glass. Bring that ear over here, punk, then we'll see who sits on who's lap."
"So what's up, paleface? Whatcha need?"
"Regular shit, nothing special. This is Bobbie. Kid, this is Cloud."
"So this is the rookie I been hearing about." He looks dead into my eyes and starts chucking. He says, "Nice piece of work in Chi, youngster, those motherfuckers needed killing, count beaucoup coup, get down with your bad self."
"Thanks. How'd ya hear about it."
"Guys know guys. It's a small world, ace, I try and keep up on who's who in da zoo." As he's talking he brings out a vial of speed, pulls a straw out of his pocket and sticks it directly into the vial, takes a huge snort, looks up with his eyes watering, and says, "Guess I lied, got some crank right here. Ya want some?"
"Nah, chief, heading downtown these days. Mel turned me out on smack. Go fast don't cut it anymore."
"Right, more for me. Word is that sissy ya been working with is not too fuckin' happy with your crew. What's up?"
The waitress comes to the table, distributes the coffee, and all conversation stops. The three of us regard her silently as she waits to get paid. Mel coughs and hands her a five-dollar bill. "Here's a nickel, see ya."
Black Cloud snorts to clear his nose, sounds like a buffalo, shakes his head, and says, "Speaking of Jewels, what's the difference between a faggot and a refrigerator?"
Mel sips his coffee, blows on it to make it cooler, and says, "The refrigerator don't fart when ya pull the meat out. So what's Jewels plannin'? What didja hear about that?"
"Heard he wanted to whack some kid, talking long shit. You tell me. Am I stepping into a shit storm working with you guys in his turf? 'Cause if I am my services are expensive."
"No, he was wrong, fuck him if he can't take a joke anyhow."
"He's a maniac but don't underestimate him, Mel."
This is unfolding like a bad dream. If Jewels's talking about hitting me it's for real. The only thing I can do is ice him first. I ask, "So what ya saying, Cloud, do I gotta kill him?"
Mel cuts in whispering, voice hoarse, "Jewels won't move on ya, Bobbie. We're out of here in a heartbeat, gone. Get our end tonight and we're history."
Black Cloud tugs on his lip. "You may be on the late freight, Mel. Jewels is a head case where his rep is concerned. Plus he owes ya a lot a dough. Run that one through your head. Fuck it. You guys ain't cherries. What can I do for ya?"
Mel lights a smoke. "Four IDs." Stops, digs in his shirt pocket, and hands Black Cloud a piece of paper. "Descriptions are on there. Want two Cads, clean, paper and number jobs, and a double-barrel twelve-gauge sawed off so it's about twelve inches from the handle to the end of the barrel. Tell us about Cleveland."
"Land of opportunity, especially for a crew of white pros like yours. You'll fit right in, niggers are going nuts. Black Panthers burning different parts of town every night, cops don't know whether to shit or go blind. Got a jewelry store and a dope connection. What do ya wanna do?"
This time I ask, "What's the setup? Creep 'em or are ya talking going in like John Wayne?"
Black Cloud looks from Mel to me, raises his eyebrows and says, "John Wayne. The jewelry store is airtight, ya gotta hit it when it opens. Armed robbery. Same thing with the connection, except your talking nigs that are armed to the teeth. They been taking connections down in NY, sellin' the shit in the Midwest. Already got multiple contracts on em. Shouldn't be a problem for guys like you. Check it out, didja hear the one about the Indian and the nigger that are waiting to get into heaven?"
"No, Cloud, haven't heard that one."
I look at Mel, who's just drinking his coffee, thoughts directed inward, and say, "No, man, not yet."
"Check it out, line of Indians as far as the eye can see. Got a short line of bugs. Nig in the front says to the Indian in the front, 'What happened? White man kill all you stupid motherfuckers?' Indian looks at him and says, 'Yeah.' Nigger says, 'Shit man, we be fuckin' their women, living on welfare, suckin''em dry. You Indians ain't about shit.' Indian laughs at the bugand tells him, 'Right, asshole, wait till they start playing cowboys and niggers.'"
Mel gives a small chuckle and Black Cloud starts busting up at his own joke, stops laughing, and says, "See? Should be a piece of cake.
The jewelry store guy will wet his pants as soon as ya throw down on him. With the connection just go in playing cowboys and niggers."
Mel comes back from whatever world he's been inhabiting and says, "You aren't talkin' about Kelvin and his guys are ya?"
The Indian laughs and says, "Give the man a cigar. Who else? Can ya think of a better group to play cowboys and nigs with? They burn their own people so they got no organized backup. I know your old lady hates those motherfuckers, and you probably don't got no love for 'em either. They burnt friends of yours, raped and sold a few chicks we both know. Fuck 'em."
"We aren't cowboys. We don't need the headaches."
Cloud stands up, says, "Think about it. Meet me here at around midnight. The paper and the cars will be here, have the dough."
Mel says, "Check it out, I want that gauge soonest. Attach a bungee cord at the handle. Solder a wire to the barrel so it's a sleeve hideout. Got it?"
Cloud laughs, slaps his hands together. "I recognize. You'll have it in a couple of hours, I'll drop it at your hotel. Catch ya later."
I stare into my coffee, the oil covering the top swirling like the emotions inside me. It doesn't matter how confident Mel is, we gotta meet Jewels to get our end of the cash and it feels like walking into an oven, the temperature climbing with every step. I say, "Yo Mel, fuck cowboys and niggers, maybe we should walk in on Jewels playing cowboys and queers."
"I hope that's not necessary."
"Right. What if it is?"
© 1997 Eddie Little. All rights reserved.
Want to read an excerpt from Eddie Little's latest novel, Steel Toes?
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