“Rocks! Blows!” Shouts echo throughout a tight cluster of sixteen-story high-rises. “Weed! Pills!” The volume on their voices are cranked to be heard, but the faces are tucked into the shadows of doorways and dark corners to stay unseen.
“If you gotta junky, we gotta banana fo that monkey!” A fast-talking spiel from a nearby entrance is aimed at the tweaking cluckas and sick fiends swarming the projects like zombies. Most are on foot. A few pull up in rusty traps from all directions, some hustling, some tricking, all spending.
The man behind the nearest voice stands half-hidden in the doorway, working point for a young crew who wrote that sales pitch to milk the building for everything it’s worth, and they’re holding it down with everything they got. The man spots a customer, one of their regulars headed his way, and he’s drawn to the shouts like a hungry mutt to a dinner bell.
Omar is the customer’s name, and his monkey is a gorilla. Standing every bit of six-four, mostly solid at two-fifty, once upon a time the thirty-nine year-old had a fierce reputation for breaking jaws and cracking teeth. That was back in his heyday, when he was known as Bone Crusha, but those days of his “Gangsta” are long gone, part of the history books, and now he’s just another one of the walking-dead infesting the streets like a virus.
With his hands buried deep in his pockets, trying his best to blend in with traffic, Crusha’s twitchy eyes scan left and right for any signs of onetime lurking in a cut and ready to jump out. He ignores the sales pitches from the other high-rises nearby and makes a b-line through a crowded parking lot towards his favorite doorway. When he gets close the man hiding in the shadows steps half-way out and greets him with a menu and inform him of the special of the day, heroin and cocaine.
“Asswipe blows and Green Monsta rocks” The street lights buzzing high over the lot barely exposes an all-black outfit, a face covered by a ski mask and a White Sox cap cocked sideways. The man doesn’t bother with instructions since all their customers know the drill.
Crusha raises his hands and the masked man proceeds with the customary pat-down, searching for guns, knives or anything that looks police issued. Then he gives the usual warning.
“Keep hands outta pockets, money in hands and money unfolded at all times.”
Crusha steps inside and hesitates just long enough for his eyes to adjust in the inky darkness of a long hallway. A few feet away a tall figure emerges like a black ghost fitted in the same project-issued uniform as the man at the door, matching mask included.
“Blows and rocks on three, weed and pills up top.” The building’s floors are like isles in a Wal-Mart and the man in black is customer service. Besides directing traffic, he handles all issues, complaints and returns with a baseball bat leaning against a wall just out of sight.
The only issue Crusha has is getting his fix, and he doesn’t need directions either. The dope fiend shops here all the time and knows his way around just fine, but when he steps into the stairwell going up he runs into a traffic jam he wasn’t expecting. Other customers, addicts of every kind are packed bumper to bumper, standing sweaty, smelly and anxious in a long line spiraling up as they wait to make a purchase.
“Dam…” Crusha was hoping to get in and out. He lost track of how many hours it’s been since he last fed his habit and the withdrawal symptoms are ringing in his head like an alarm clock. The knuckles of an eight-hundred pound gorilla are tapping impatiently on his shoulder and whispering in his ear. “Ay Omar, you ain’t foget’about me didya?”
The old fiend wipes the sweat off of his bald head and nervously glances down at two wrinkled twenties in his hand. He rubs them between his fingers, double and triple-checking the cheap ink and paper they were printed on.
“Dam…” Crusha lost the sharp edge to his instincts years ago after he sucked his first hit through a car antenna, but he has a really bad feeling about this one. About fifteen minutes ago he was stalking gas stations over on the Ave, sizing up purses to snatch or cars to jack when he ran into one of his old partners from the other side of the projects. “Dirty Red” is what they call him. High-yellow with freckles, Red has a look that matches his name to a T, and he wears the “Dirty” like a badge of honor. He’s a character straight out of a comic book, the villain everybody loves to hate. Crusha usually avoids making deals with snakes like him, but the slimy nigga made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Man Crusha, I gotta fist full of bogus dubs hot off the presses. If you put in the ground-work we can both be decent.”
“No doubt.” Red set the hook by adding, “Easy money, like candy from a baby. Betta than boostin or robbin ol ladies.”
The truth of his words stung like a thousand cigarette burns. Ever since early this morning, Crusha’s own hustles to come up have been falling short. His first plot got foiled when he had to drag somebody’s granny damn near half a block before she finally let go of her purse straps. Then his bad luck turned buzzard when a couple bystanders chased him over a fence and he fumbled the goods. A simple strong-armed robbery turned into a blank mission.
Crusha kicked himself in the ass for hours after that until he decided to roll the dice at a liquor store downtown. He ended up making another mad dash when a nosy clerk peeped him stuffing his straight-legs with Gray Goose and almost pinched him at the door. The bottles busted in the tussle and he had to make that getaway empty handed.
Now here he is an hour later standing in the stairwell still smelling like vodka, and the closer he inches his way to the top the more frantic he gets for the fix. But with most of the day gone, he knows if this last scam doesn’t work the gorilla beating on his back will make him tap-out, too weak to hit the streets and hustle.
“Asswipe! Green Monsta! Rick James!” A small group of servers at the third floor landing are advertising their name brands for the customers, and they have orders moving in and out faster than a drive-thru.
“Gimme four Green Monstas.”
“Two Ass Wipes.”
“One and one.”
A cute young woman who looks way too young and cute to be a dope fiend pulls in and places her order.
“One Ricky and wipe his ass two times.” She stuffs the bags in her bra and spins. Crusha is up next.
“Who you want playa?” The man closest to the steps is spitting out dimes from behind his mask while his buddies count money. Another man lurks in the background leaning incognito against a wall with his hand wrapped around something with a trigger on it.
All of them are separated from the crowd on the steps by a stolen shopping cart filled with bricks, cinder blocks and broken chunks of concrete. The cart is their check-out counter, the bullshit inside is an emergency brake ready to tumble down on any police dumb enough to rush up the stairs.
“Three Asswipes and a Monsta.” Crusha quickly hands over the two dubs and makes like he’s in a hurry, bouncing from foot to foot and silently praying the man doesn’t pay too much attention to the paper. But instead of praying for luck he should’ve found out how many times Red already burned this spot with his bogus money before he took him up on that offer.
The cashier behind the register flicks on a small flashlight. Crusha’s heart sinks to his stomach and skips a couple beats.
“Nigga, what the fuck is this?” That wasn’t really a question, and he wasn’t really looking for an answer, but it does get the attention of buddy behind him with the banga.
“Gangsta, hold this nigga while I check his funds.” The man in the background doesn’t hesitate to step up and press the cold barrel of a four-nickel to the middle of Crusha’s sweaty forehead.
“Move, and I’m knockin yo shit back.” The silence and darkness in the stairwell makes the youngsta’s bark sound worse than the bite.
Panic rises through the customers on the steps behind Crusha. The slow thinkers at the front of the line start asking “Man, can I get mine befo you kill this fool?” The ones quick on their feet at the back bust u-turns with “Man, I’m getting the fuck outta here!”
“Everybody shut the fuck up!” Orders the man with the bullets. A quick glance at the bills tells his partner the serial numbers match the same twenties they’ve been getting burned with all week, and they’ve been waiting for a nigga to try them again. He blows a two-fingered whistle down the stairwell and hollers to a few of their guys posted in spots only they know about.
Crusha spits out an “Oh shit…” as terror floods his gut and turns shit into bubbles. The gangsta that used to be Bone Crusha no longer exists, and these youngstas are a different kind of breed from a whole new generation. Even so, the justice system in the projects is still old-skool, and probation ain’t never been part of a deal.
Instead of trying to beg his way out of a situation that’s too sticky for words, the dope fiend pulls together whatever strength he has left, sends a quick shout out to God just in case he still has an ear open for njprayers, and then lets his instincts do the talking for him.
Crusha’s left arm swings up like a heavy club and knocks the gun away from his face, then his right fist follows a half-second later and slams a solid upper-cut to the man’s chin. The big four-nickel bucks like thunder and lights up the stairwell with a blinding flash. Nap time for the young gangsta behind the trigger, asleep on his feet, and he drops like a rock.
Crusha knows he better get it while the gettin’s good. He pushes past the spooked customers and takes flight down the steps five and six at a time all the way to the first floor. Security is at the back entrance where he came in so that’s a no-go. He reroutes his getaway towards the front, bends a left in the hallway and cuts through the lobby where he can finally see the glow of street lights outside. Then he runs face-first into the fat end of an aluminum baseball bat. First the sound of a loud “Plink!” echoes through the lobby. That was the bat bouncing off his face. Next the back of his head smacks the concrete with a “Crack!” The rest of the action seems to downshift for Crusha, from real-time to slow motion as a gang of Nike swooshes rains down on him from every direction.
Crusha always figured his struggles with addiction would come to a stop one day, and he just wanted to have a little fun while it lasted, but he never thought the party would come to an awful ending like this.
Suddenly something gives the fiend a sliver of hope to hold onto. The bat holds its swing and the Nike swooshes pause in mid-flight. A pair of rubber soles, Jordans, stands down and speaks up.
“Hold up, G. Here comes my mans an’em.”
Crusha rolls over broken and bleeding, the sting of tears blurring his vision. He catches a glimpse of two dark figures stepping through the front entrance. The first man in turns out to be another one of his old homies, a twenty-year nigga he pulled a few crazy stunts with back in the day. “Knuckles” is what they call him, and the name speaks for itself. Crusha hatches a quick plan to beg for his life, while he still has it.
“Knuck, my dude…” Before he can speak up his words are cut short when he gets a better look at the second figure stepping into the lobby. He’s one of a pair of twin brothers who have a couple of hellified reputations around these buildings.
“Man Fool, no harm no foul…” Crusha tries to switch tactics but gets the twins mixed up and calls the wrong name. If a dope fiend didn’t have bad luck he wouldn’t have no luck at all. Either way, his plea gets choked off by his own blood and a piece of tooth that slipped down his throat.
“Gangsta, what’s the word on this nigga?” The youngster with the bat is itching to hit another one out of the park.
Silence seems to pause time in the lobby, seconds feel like minutes. Crusha can only hear the tick-tock of his heart beating in his chest, and the curtains closing on the story of his life. Finally the twin speaks.
The alarm on D’mico’s body clock rings inside his head and pops his eyes open like they’re riding hydraulics. He set his body to “Penitentiary time” four years ago and that alarm has been going off the same time ever morning since. He sits up in bed, blinks back the fog of sleep and waits a few seconds for his blurry vision to clear.
“Sleep late, lose weight” was the way of life inside the joint, and even though he got sprung from that cage a few days ago, he’s still struggling to shake that mentality and get used to a new reality back in the real world. Now he’s waking up in a real bedroom on a real mattress, no plastic, and the naked chick lying next to him is real too. She was a welcome home present, from her to him, and he’s been unwrapping her for three days straight.
D’mico cracks a greedy smile at the sexy curves tangled in sheets that got twisted some time during the night. The warm light shining through the bedroom’s only window has her dark complexion looking more intoxicating than a bottle of black Jamaican rum, 180-proof, and he’s loving the hangover.
He slides off the bed without disturbing the sleeping beauty, grabs his phone from the charger on the floor and quietly makes his way to a chair sitting by the window. After knocking a Newport from a pack and sparking a lighter he pulls back the curtain to get a good view of Chicago as a new day comes to life outside.
Straight ahead the sun is just beginning to peek its shining head over the silver glass and black steel of the downtown skyscrapers off in the distance. Closer to home, left and right, the rays of morning light slowly push through a gritty haze hovering above a crowded skyline of high-rise project buildings standing tall like giants made of brick and casting long shadows across expanses of cratered asphalt, cracked sidewalks and grass-less dirt all littered with garbage of every kind.
Cabrini Green is the concrete jungle where D’mico Barksdale was born thirty-three years ago, “Gangsta City” is what he calls the land he’s been claiming every since, and “Fool” is what the land calls him. He takes a minute to listen in on the sounds of rush-hour traffic buzzing by down below, streets packed with 9-5er’s on their way to punch clocks, sidewalks thick with hustlers coming off all-night grinds and smokers clucking for crumbs like pigeons. The neighborhood D-boys are scrambling to setting up shop to catch every dollar being spent.
Fool switches his attention back to the bed and the gorgeous body he spent the last few days getting to know so well that when he closes his eyes he can still taste the sweetness of her pink candy lingering on the tip of his tongue. He can still feel the softness of her chocolate melting in his hands.
Tameeka Thomas is her name and he lucked up on the twenty-six year-old cutie about a year ago when fate made their paths cross through a picture. Her brother happened to be doing a stretch in the same joint and he sent her a flick of them mobbed up and flexing on the weight yard. She was digging the cameo and wanted an introduction.
They started getting to know each other through kites, more pics and occasional collect calls. Fool liked her look right away, from the face to the waist, and she had the kind of thickness a picture couldn’t do justice for. He even complemented her for keeping it conservative on the hair weave and leaving some of the tail on the horse. Personality told the rest of her story; she knows how to use what she was blessed with and can hold her own, no scavenging.
Tameeka was on the other end of the flix feeling him the same way. The weight yard was doing Fool’s body good, his muscles were stacked tight and the sun was kissing the cuts to a complexion barely lighter than hers. He kept his waves low, lined around strong features and a pair of eyes so deep they killed her plans to play hard-to-get.
Over the phone Fool’s confidence and educated slang got her impressed with his conversation, and before long she wanted to know if his physical swag could get her hooked. That’s when the postman got ditched, their calls got rerouted and conversations turned into face-to-face visits.
At this stage in the game most lifers would’ve kept their pen-pals spinning like a top with scripts like “…only gotta couple years left”, designed to keep the visits coming and the money orders checking in on their books, at least until the woman finally realized the nigga was never coming home and she was nothing more than a long-distance victim. At the time Fool’s circumstances were looking a little rosier than that and he decided to keep it 100, so he filled her in on the whole story.
Three and a half years earlier him and his twin were pumping fiends out of a building in Gangsta City, 1230 Larrabee, the “Himalaya”. At the time they were living the fab life the fast way and they started slipping, not paying enough attention to the details. A big dent got knocked out of their pockets by a bunch of funny money going around, and when their workers caught a thirsty customer trying to pass a couple dubs, his brother over-reacted and shot the nigga ten times with a forty.
Luck had its back turned on Fool that day, and right before the first shot was fired a nosy resident overheard the victim say his name, begging for his life. Fool was snatched up, fingered in a lineup and found guilty twelve months later by nine whites, two Asians and one Uncle Tom. The judge was laughing when he threw the whole book at the twin, life with no parole, and that was the beginning of the end for D’mico Barksdale, or so they thought.
Tameeka thought that was terrible, and of course she had questions for him.
“So far so good.” The appellate court already ruled in Fool’s favor and his case was coming up for a new trial soon.
“Any little Fool’s running around?”
“D’mone, but they call him RunThang.” Fool ran down the short version of their family history.
Momma was an addict who never met a drug she didn’t like, and banging needles was her favorite. She wound up popping a hot dose when the twins were still conversating in baby talk. Daddy was M.I.A. from the gate, so granny stepped up to the plate and handled the duties the best she could, but her ticker was already working overtime and she ended up punching her last clock before she could see them into the first grade.
“Cabrini Green was the foster home, Gangster Disciple was the family.”
“Why they call ya’ll Fool and RunThang?”
“We got the names we were given.” Back then everyone knew one brother was a thinker with a personality that made people fall in line and follow. The other brother didn’t give a fuck about nobody but himself and was a damn fool. Problem was no one could ever tell who was who, so the twins let them get it twisted on purpose and kept up the act in case they ever needed a case of mistaken identity. That scam eventually got ex-ed when RunThang caught his first set of scars, stitches and bullet wounds. Tatts did the rest to tell them apart, but the names were already stuck.
Tameeka heard about the special bonds between twins and she was curious.
“Same thoughts, same feelings?”
“Not exactly.” Fool is calm, cool and collected, never working off of feelings. Before he pulls a trigger or throws rocks at the penitentiary, he does his homework and calculates every angle. RunThang’s mentality comes straight from the planet of the apes, and he thinks he’s the only gorilla in the flick, everyone else is just wearing costumes. Plus he reacts off of jealousy and is spontaneous in the worst way. No one ever knows how he’ll maneuver when situations get tight.
D’mico and D’mone understood each other because they were brothers of the same struggle. By the time they grew into their roles of Fool and RunThang, they stayed partners out of necessity and always recognized it for what it was, no love, no loyalty.
“If you didn’t trust him, what happened to all your stuff?”
“The usual, whips, clothes and the occasional ho, in that order. RunThang got the scraps.”
“Twin still lookin out?”
“Hell naw.” Back then Fool’s brother had a habit of getting him mixed up in his messes. Right before he got popped RunThang fucked around and planted a seed inside a west side tramp he couldn’t control. He dealt with the situation the only way he could think of at the time and sent word through some homies that he got killed in a car accident, D.U.I., closed casket.
Shorty was devastated and immediately reached out to Fool, but he didn’t feel like covering for his twin on that one and exposed the bullshit for what it was. RunThang didn’t find out who dropped that dime until Fool was already down for the count. He felt stabbed in the back, so he cut off all ties with his only brother and faded into the background, out of site out of mind.
Tameeka understood perfectly. It’s crazy what family will fall out about. To the outsiders looking in it seems like petty shit, but to the brothers and sisters doing the feuding, shit is serious as a heart attack. Either way, she appreciated the honesty and decided to keep it real with him as well.
She’s from a south side project, State Way Gardens, and lives with her moms and a beautiful two-year old daughter named Tamia, but everyone calls her “Mini Me” because Tameeka keeps her stuck to her side like glue, even dressed alike. Her baby’s daddy just went down on a fresh nickel, and “yes” she considers herself a loyal chick and has her man’s back, good or bad, wrong or right. But she was an independent mommy before he went AWOL and she’ll be independent when he gets out.
That’s when Tameeka made Fool an offer he couldn’t refuse. If he came home on appeal they could be buddies, no strings, whatever happens, happens.
“Yup…” Tameeka doesn’t get it twisted. Only dumb bitches with no life stay faithful to niggas locked-up in the slammer. She has better things to do and her world isn’t getting put on hold for nobody, sorry.
Of course Fool said “Hell yeah”, and as things turned out, destiny was smiling down on them both. Four days ago he was knocking out super-sets in the gym when he was called to the warden’s office. Word just came down from the appellate court and it was all good. The only eye-witness testimony got tossed out because he couldn’t tell the twins apart in a lineup. Since there was no other physical evidence tying him to the murder, the state didn’t want to waste time and money putting on a new trial. Less than twenty-four hours later Fool was kicked out the front gate of a maximum security prison with twenty-five dollars and a bus ticket, thrown from a world rotating in slow-motion and landing on one spinning at full speed, and he’s just now starting to feel like he’s ready to catch up with traffic.
Fool’s thoughts get pulled back into the present when his phone vibrates in his lap. Tameeka was on point with the pre-paid when he touched down, unlimited tlk-txt-web. He set the ringtone to “Cha-ching” like a cash register, but he turned it off so it wouldn’t wake them up. The caller I.D. pops up “Knuck” with a pair of red boxing gloves.
“What up, gangsta?”
Knuck is short for knuckles, and he’s a Barksdale from a distant branch of the family tree. He got his name from a reputation he earned early in his career as a knockout artist, one and done, and the scared knobs on his ashy-black fists are the stamps that certify his title. Cuz kept a one-bedroom on reservation in 624 Division, the “Carter”, and he donated the tenth-floor apartment to Fool as part of a blessing that came with some work for his hand and paper for his pocket.
“You still wrapped in that pussy?”
“Tighter than a hostage.” Four years down state had Fool rustier than Rampage Jackson trying to make a comeback. Lucky for him Tameeka didn’t mind being his sparring partner, and she helped him tighten up his ground-game. Last night he had her twisted in more knots than a pretzel.
“I’m on the breezeway. Come blow one wit me.” Knuck has been trying to talk Fool out of that hiding spot beneath Tameeka every since he touched down in his plain-Jane Reeboks and gray prison sweats.
“On the way.” Fool disconnects, snuffs out his cigarette then steps into a pair of shorts and some kicks. At the front door he slides off the security chain, knocks back a deadbolt then heads down the hallway to a fenced-in breezeway that looks out over the heart of Gangsta City, high enough to see, high enough to stay unseen.
Knuck already has a couple lawn chairs set up like Lay-Z-Boys, a cup of Remy Red on ice and a grape Swisha on fire. Fool cops a seat and hits recline.
“Luv for the gifts.” The twin might’ve needed an assist getting the tools, but he damned sure won’t need any help using them to lay his own foundation.
“No doubt…” Knuck chokes back a cloud of smoke as he passes the B and a cup. “… you ready to get back in the lab, mad scientist?”
Fool coughs out a laugh and washes it down with a swig of Remy. Long stretches in the slammer can make an amateur tap-out, but he’s a decorated vet from the original war on drugs, all the way back when crack first hit Chicago like a terrorist attack and heroin was causing more casualties than a suicide bomber.
“Yeah, I used to think I was the Frankenstein of the game.” He earned his stripes one stunt at a time, from baby jars to Pyrex, microwaves to George Formans. Once upon a time he was running through baking soda like Arm & Hammer, plastic baggies like Glad.
While Fool was in the kitchen perfecting the recipes, he was smart enough to recognize that everyone in the projects were doing the same basic shit, cop, chop and serve, nothing special or slick about it. Even the connects were all the same. What separated the Barksdales from the crowd was they were light on their feet, quick to react to changes in the game and willing to step on toes when necessary, necks if that’s what it took.
Competition breeds imaginations and dictates tactics, from dimes all day and nicks after midnight, to buy one-get-one Saturdays and bitches get high for half-off Sundays. Fool had more catchy slogans than an infomercial, and he used every trick in the book to pump up his clientele, but “The game is to be sold” is a true story in Cabrini and he wasn’t passing out tips for free.
While he masterminded the business model, Knuck and RunThang ran the rest of the team and had the franchise clicking like clockwork. At the time the young wanna-b’s took turns working the spot with mouthfuls of bags spitting at cluckers who walked up. When the police started flipping their flunkies into informants, Knuck was quick to peep that weakness. He consolidated the hustles inside of the buildings and hired the local addicts to serve up the dirty work. They were easily replaceable. When one got popped, switch ‘em out like used batteries and keep the dope lines moving.
Meanwhile RunThang took security more serious than the Secret Service. He posted lookouts in six-hour shifts on every corner, inside buildings and on rooftops with binoculars and two-way radios from Radio Shack. They kept one eye out for the police, the other eye on the workers, and at the same time protected the customers from each other. For the first time the crackheads and fiends finally felt safe enough to come in and shop without getting robbed on the way out.
Now, according to Knuck, “Free enterprise” is still more popular than video games and the NBA, and “Get it by any means” is the only way to play, but these days competition is thick and profits are tight. Instead of sweating that daily grind, Knuck rents out floors in the Carter for a fee and lets the new jacks fight over the scraps. It’s easier to get the youngsters checking in while he cashes out, but the game is also pulling in new players who were never invited to the table. Cuz gives Fool a heads-up on the crooked cops circling like vultures, and how they swoop down for a cut as soon as a spot gets hot and starts making too many moves.
“Yo pockets gettin picked?” Twin looks cuz in the eye, trying to spot the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“Hell naw…” Knuck chokes and spits then passes the ass-end of the soggy Swisha. “But twin is playin cops and robbers outta 630 though.”
Fool lifts one eyebrow in surprise. Fool had heard about his brother relocating his shop over to 630, the “30 Block”, but he never would’ve thought Run would team up with a dirty dick. That doesn’t mean he’s impressed though, but the news definitely gives him some serious shit to think about.
“Who’s the scoundrel, who’s the sucka?”
“Still trynna put a finger on that one. Long as they don’t get in my way everything is peaceful.”
“They got their shit classified top-secret, but the way traffic is movin, they gotta be pumpin it harder than Denzel pumped Blue Magic.” Knuck offers Fool a refill for his cup but the twin declines.
“Fuck what they doin anyway. We about to make our own moves, and real Gangstas move in silence.”
“Now you see me, now you don’t.” No doubt Fool’s palms are itching to stamp his name brand on some of those profits, but if he can’t do it right he won’t do it at all. That four-year hiatus dulled his instincts and he knows better than to throw his chips all-in without getting a feel for the hand he’s holding.
“But that’s business for business hours. Right now is play-time and I gotta new toy I ain’t done breakin in yet.” Fool stands up, stomps out the Swisha and shakes off some ashes. He gives cuz the duces and promises to hit his caller I.D. later. He makes a b-line for the apartment.
After double-locking the front door and plugging his phone back into the charger, Fool kicks off his jumpers, steps out of his shorts and wakes Tameeka with a smack on her sexy ass.
“Time for another round.” He tosses her a pack of rubbers from the dresser, glow-in-the-dark blue with ribs, and tells her to slide it on for him.
Blocks get hot in Cabrini when the long days of summer start to heat up. Before the street lights cut out in the mornings, the neighborhood is crowded with petty-hustlers grinding out hits one nickel at a time. Sidewalks and fire-lanes are clogged with boosters peddling everything from hats and socks to bottled water and M&M’s, all knocked fresh off of a store’s shelves and priced to go. The parking lots are just as packed with addicts of all kinds, some pretending to be mechanics crawling under cars for crumbs, others with less talent prowling for victims and preying on the weak. By eleven o’clock every corner in the area is crammed tight with the local riff-raff mingling with visiting hoodlums, vets schooling new jacks to new games, nobody with anything better to do.
Fenced in between the eighteen stories of 1340 Larabee, a building known as the “Fab 40”, and the slightly shorter 30 Block sits one of Gangsta City’s only playgrounds, but the only thing left to play with are a rusty sliding board that leans broken to one side, a swing set with no swings and a sandbox filled with enough glass and dog shit even the dumbest kids know better than to stick their finger in that mess. Nevertheless, a small group of kids play happily behind a chain-link fence, their mothers standing close by on the lookout for predators, everyone’s reflexes tuned-in for the sound of gunshots, ready to snatch up toys and haul ass.
In the lot behind 630, RunThang leans lazily against the grill of a baby-blue box Chevy, bass humming from the trunk as he flips through pix on his phone. A few days ago the crew was bird-watching on the lakefront and he bumped a neat suburban chick sunbathing in a two-piece. She uploaded some back-shots to his FaceBook and he’s organizing his photo albums by body-type. He files her under “Thoroughbred” because she has an ass like a racehorse.
A few feet to the twin’s left, one of his main go-to guys stands low-key in the shade on his P’s and Q’s for any bullshit that might come their way, and he’s double-breasted as always.
TY was the name RunThang’s young go-getter was born with, but “Monsta” is the only name he answers to. He’s a nineteen year-old country-strong nigga standing six-five with a weight tipping the scales somewhere around 250, and he has a look that’s about as cute as Shaq cuddled up with a puppy. His forehead is a mile long, droopy eyes cocked every which way but straight, and it looks like he has a mouth fool of baby teeth, all crooked.
Monsta’s ugliness isn’t just skin-deep. He’s as mean as he looks and just as dumb. He even misspells his “wurds” when he “tawks” and thinking about it only gets him confused, but none of those qualities have anything to do with how he got his name. About a year back, TY’s younger sister Toya stumbled across his stash of buds in the bedroom and let one of her thirsty friends talk her into blowing it up in smoke. Of course big bruh was mad as hell when he found out, but since Toya didn’t have the necessary funds to replace it, he took it light on lil sis and let her finance with seven easy payments, and she was preapproved, no credit check. Unfortunately for her, TY wasn’t accepting cash, only sexual favors, and all he wanted was head once a day for a week.
Toya tried her best to get those bills in on time, but he was making her swallow, and after the first three installments her stomach couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when she finally built up enough courage to run and tell their mother, and lucky for her, moms is meaner than her son is big, and she didn’t hesitate to revoke his family membership. After she got done tossing all his shit out into the hallway, she called him “Monsta”, told him to get lost then hit him in the ass with the door knob. Toya got sent away to granny’s before big bruh could get paid in full, but either way, TY liked the sound of that name so much he kept it, and it only took him a week or two to get word out that the name change was official.
Around that same time is when he first got RunThang’s attention. One day a couple of local thugs, brothers everyone calls the Tough Tonies, spotted the youngsta on the ball courts and decided to practice some new bully tactics. But Monsta wasn’t impressed, and evidently they didn’t get the memo on his reputation. The first one to run up got hit so hard it changed his chromosome from a “Y” to an “X”, bully to bitch. His brother held his own for a round or two but eventually caught a bad case of whiplash from an upper-cut and finally got choked-out in a headlock. RunThang happened to be on location scouting potential and drafted the rookie with a first-round pick that guaranteed him a starting spot on the team.
Over on the Chevy, Twin logs off FB, slides his phone into a pocket and pulls out a Black & Mild stuffed with some sticky shit. As he puts a flame to the tip a different kind of game draws his attention over to the back entrance of the 30 Block. A couple of young knuckleheads from his crew cornered a building rat and are tag-teaming her with a cheap bottle of E&J and some dirt weed. One of them sugarcoats his lingo with sweet things he thinks she wants to hear while his buddy gets straight to the point and wants to know “What it do, shawty?”
RunThang recognizes the girl as Robbie, the fifteen year-old daughter of a local hooker who used to trick for a pimp named GameTight, until crack stole her glamour and hepatitis made her worthless. Now she’s plain dangerous.
Robbie is tall for her age, not too cute but curvy with the kind of pooty-booty that’ll make a grown man chase it, nothing to brag about though. Her large pretty eyes had their innocence wiped out a long time ago, and evidently she has better taste than what those two shorties are offering because they’re having a helluva time getting her to bust down.
“Gangsta,” Monsta pulls the twin’s attention away from that entertainment with a deep voice that rumbles through the muscles of his chest. He nods over to the far end of the lot where a familiar midnight-blue Crown Vic spiked with antennas is heading their way. The unmarked cruiser stirs up warning shouts of “One time!”, “Heads up!”, and “Slick boys in the lot!” from every doorway, window, rooftop and anywhere lookouts are posted.
Instead of weaving through the minefield of potholes, broken glass and rusty nails, the Ford hops a curb and shortcuts it across the grass-less dirt until it pulls up behind the heavy Chevy. RunThang passes the burning Black to his big homie and they both step towards the driver’s side tinted window. It slides down to reveal a face damn near as black and ugly as Monsta’s with the kind of texture cocoa butter was invented for.
The cop behind the wheel is so well known around this neck of the projects he’s called by his first name, Angel. But nothing about this cop fits the typical image of a police officer, and “To protect and serve” isn’t part of his job description either. In Angel’s case it’s safe to judge the book by the cover, and just like the old saying “Takes one to know one”, any crook worth his weight could finger him as one of their own. Angel’s a career criminal with a badge, and he’s been RunThang’s partner-in-crime for more than a year now.
“Gangsta,” the cop nods at the twin before fixing Monsta with a stare that has no respect in it.
“If you had any brains cells left, your mind would be a terrible thing to waste.” To him the big gorilla is just an overgrown flunky, and he can’t stand him.
The dro smoke keeps Monsta from thinking fast enough to catch the sarcasm, but his instincts have no problem picking up on the negative vibes. To let the undercover dick know the feelings are mutual he exhales a gray cloud across his face then smiles in a way only an ugly gorilla could.
“I should make you suck on that motha fucka.” Angel is a ten-year vet and intimidation tactics don’t work on him, but RunThang breaks up the petty squabble with a nod that fades his flunky back a few steps.
The twin doesn’t get it twisted though. He doesn’t exactly see eye-to-eye with the detective either, and if it wasn’t for unusual set of circumstances, fate probably would’ve never let their paths cross in the first place.
Back when Fool first kicked off his down-state tour of the prison system, Chicago came up with a new blueprint for low-income housing and started tearing down projects all over the city. Cabrini was at the top of the list for demolition. Wrecking balls took thirty-something buildings down to less than half that, and the local mobs were quick to war over what was left. RunThang’s hustle got hectic fast. That’s when the police tried to butt in for a cut and set the stage for a pair of gangster mentalities with the same vision to do a collabo.
It’s no secret Fool was the twin born with most of the brains, but RunThang popped out of the pussy holding the muscle. He grew up heartless with no conscience and a ruthless reputation that made him an alpha. He might not be the marketing whiz like Fool, but he runs his buildings like a tight ship and everybody making a fast dollar has to check in with him, from the candyman slanging Now & Laters on the first floor to the bootlegger serving up shots at the top. Even the garbage men would have to kick in to do their rounds if he could figure out how to squeeze a buck out of them.
Angel’s motivation has always been greed and his only inspiration is money. He’s as crooked as crooked gets and there’s way more uses for his badge than just fighting crime, like extortion, shakedowns and hunting down the best connects in the city. That’s what makes their partnership a perfect fit. While he keeps the plugs, twin keeps the spot pumping and soldiers in line, the easy way or the hard way.
“So what’s to that bud?” The cop gets back to business and nods over at Monsta whose fat lips are still wrapped around the Black & Mild. The green was part of a sample Angel sent over for a taste test.
“Mid-grade.” RunThang speaks for his flunky.
A few days ago he clued his partner in with some inside info on their competition. The cop chased the lead with a crew and some bogus warrants. After kicking down a few doors they finally located the stash. A brick, two pounds of weed and a jar of X pills got chopped up four ways.
“Can you move that shit?”
“Like Geico…” Selling weed in Cabrini is so easy even a caveman can do it. Besides, RunThang can sugarcoat a piece of shit and make it taste like chocolate cake. His heavy handed tactics already has a clamp on three of Gangsta City’s eight buildings, but the greedy cop wants to be the only one-stop shop in the area and he’s rolling back prices even WalMart can’t beat.
“What about your brotha?” Everyone thought Fool was down for the count, stretched out with an L and no P. Angel was the first to get word on twin’s release and he doesn’t want him staking a claim to the same land.
RunThang shrugs off the question. He tried reaching out to see where Fool’s mind is at but no word came back and he’s starting to think animosity over the past has something to do with it. Either way he won’t lose any sleep over it, and if Fool steps outside his body, RunThang’s always ready for combat.
“Problems cause heat…” Angel knows better than to underestimate. Besides, wars don’t just kill people, they kill profits.
Monsta laughs at the possibilities and pulls his jacket back at the waist to expose a pair of matching 9′s. He named them Ning and Ding.
“Aight.” Angel leaves it alone for now and his thoughts are already shifting to other business. He makes eye contact with his partner then reroutes his stare over towards Robbie standing by the back entrance swigging on the E&J with the shorties still breathing down her neck.
RunThang reads it like a crystal ball and already had a feeling Angel was only talking business as a smoke screen. The cop usually likes to keep his dirt on the low and rarely ever pops up in broad daylight. Twin grabs the Black from Monsta and whistles to get Robbie’s attention. The two knuckleheads don’t bother hiding their disappointment when she spins off, but they know better than to huff and puff about it.
When Robbie walks up, RunThang lifts her chin with a finger to adjust the focus in her pretty eyes. Lips part to say something but he cuts her off with the tip of the Black. He digs in a pocket while she pulls, and when her mouth opens to blow out the smoke he pops in a pill. He bends down with a whisper for her ear.
“You need to shake those D-league niggas and go pro.”
RunThang takes a step back and sizes her up from head to toe, then back up to her hips. The girl’s eyes light up with a shy smile.
“You’re good for a rookie contract, maybe some new kicks and some gear.” Twin nods over at his partner and makes sure she’s on the same page. Robbie’s already nodding her head.
“What you want me to do?” “First I need you to campaign for the cause…” RunThang sells more dreams than the sandman and he has the young girl starstruck. “… I’ll take care of you later.”
sucks on his treat as he helps her into the passenger seat, and before he can tell his partner to “Holla back”, the Crown Vic is already shifting into gear.
Angel got what he really came for, and he doesn’t waste any time peeling rubber, bending the wheel with one hand and unzipping his fly with the other. By the time the Ford makes it to the end of the lot, he’s reaching for the back of Robbie’s head.