Blacktop Hustlaz By
Felony Books, P.O. Box 1577, Belton, MO 64012
Felony Books, a division of Olive Group, LLC, P.O. Box 1577, Belton, MO 64012 Copyright ÂŠ 2012 by Jordan Belcher This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the authorâ€™s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews. ISBN-13: 978-0-615-56215-5 Library of Congress Control Number: 2011943026 Felony Books edition March 2012 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Manufactured in the United States of America For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Felony Books at email@example.com. Cover design/Hair and Makeup: Simone Norton Cover model: Colette Michelle Lighting: Adaina Saxton-Ross
“Nobody can hustle with impunity.” —O.G. Banks
Part I NICKELS AND DIMES
CHAPTER 1 The sidewalk was crowded with college students
mingling amongst themselves and with other young people from around the city. Every other person sipped from clear cups of brown liquor, and not everybody looked of age. There was a cute girl in fishnet stockings and platform sandals who looked every bit of eighteen, give or take a year. But she didn’t have a drink in her hand, and she wasn’t mingling. She was on the go, trying to get to her car, half expecting the cluster of people on the sidewalk to move out her way. “Can yall niggas make a hole, please?” She’d been ready to leave this hotspot, leave this whole Westport area. She’d searched and searched for a baller to share some dialogue with, and when she finally found one, he embarrassed her by saying he didn’t talk to gold diggers. Who the fuck was he to accuse her of—? Suddenly, her elbow was grabbed. “Wussup, baby girl,” said the arm grabber. “Slow down for a minute. I’m Charles. Charles Blake.” She turned her nose up at the overweight brotha, yanked her elbow free. The fat boy was dressed in a cheap sweat suit, no jewelry, no sign of sustainable income. She glanced at his friend standing next to him, handsome and groomed, but unfortunately his shoes showed signs of wear. “I don’t associate wit’ bums,” she said, and stalked off.
“Fuck you then!” Charles spat. She disappeared in the crowd. Charles turned to his friend. “Ay Skee, you ready to go?” James Skier aka “Skee” was leaning against the brick building watching everybody that passed by him. They all looked like they had more money than him in their Christian Dior this and Coogi that, their diamond trinkets twinkling under these midnight streetlamps. And their diamonds looked real, as far as he could tell. Skee had on what he could afford—a white Stafford T-shirt, ironed blue jeans and a pair of two-month-old Reebok Classics that had been wiped clean before he left the house. Jewel-free. Just a rubber band on his wrist. “You ready?” Charles repeated. “Hold up, nigga,” Skee checked him. “You get turned down a couple times and you ready to go? You should be used to it by now.” “I need to leave because my grandma want me to go to church wit’ her in the morning.” “Stop lying. You mad ‘cause that girl called you a bum.” “I’m not mad. I ain’t worried about that bitch that just walked off. She had some fucked up toes anyway, and had the audacity to try to hide ‘em wit’ fishnets.” Skee smirked. “A’ight. Let’s chill for about thirty more minutes and then we can roll. I need to get a couple more numbers.” All sorts of fashionistas shuffled past them. And it appeared that wearing bottoms was out of style tonight. A petite girl in step with a group of her friends wore a long-hemmed collar shirt as a dress, with an ornamental red belt cinched around her waist. Revealing, yet classy. But one of her not-so-petite
friends had fit herself into a poor tank top—that was it!—and had to keep pulling the skirt of it down to hide the cusps of her ample booty cheeks. Uncensored beauty walked the streets of Westport. Skee was seeing a lot of females he already knew, already conquered. Some of them spoke, and some—the one-night stands he never called back—acted like they didn’t see him. One of his homeboys’ baby’s mommas was here, a drama queen named Tamika Rogers, and she greeted Skee with a warm hug. So did Tiffany from Hilltop, but she forced hers. Skee ended up charming three more girls into handing over their contact info. Turning to Charles, Skee said, “How much money you got?” “I’m broke.” “There you go lying again. You just got paid yesterday.” “I bought an alternator for the Lincoln. How you think we made it down here? Then I had to pay to get it put in. I think them crooked mechanics over there on Prospect overcharged me.” “All I need is twenty,” Skee said. Charles patted his pockets. “I ain’t got it. I told you I’m broke.” “You see that beige Camaro over there?” Charles looked. “The one wit’ the two little guys sittin’ on the hood? I see it. They shining just as much as the car, and all them girls around ‘em is shining, too.” “They look younger than us and they ballin’. Why we ain’t got nothin’ like that?” The answer was simple to Charles. “That shit cost too much.”
“Nah, it’s because we ain’t tryin’ hard enough.” “I don’t know about you but I’m tryin’. I got a job.” “You got a job but it don’t pay shit. I got a girl but she don’t pay shit. We gotta start makin’ some changes.” “I’m about to change my spot. You fuckin’ up my mood.” “I was thinkin’ about hustling. Maybe we should see what we can get out the drug game, ‘cause it’s lookin’ like that’s the best thing goin’. All we gotta do is find somebody that sell weed to front us a couple pounds. We know everybody that smokes.” “Hustling? That’s the second time you brought that up this week. If that’s what you wanna do, go ahead. But me and jail don’t get along.” “You ain’t never even been to jail. And ain’t nobody talkin’ ‘bout goin’ to jail. We just gotta stay on our toes.” “I’m hungry,” Charles said, rubbing his big tummy. “You need to be hungry for some money.” They walked through the crowd to get a bite to eat at Joe’s Pizza, the only food joint open this late in the vicinity. While Skee waited for Charles to order, he watched a shoving match start across the street. The shoving between the two college drunks turned into an all-out fistfight, and the horde around them made room, let them make fools of themselves, swinging erratically and missing each other over and over until they tired themselves out. Charles joined Skee a moment later, spoke with a mouthful of pizza. “You want some of this?” “Nah, I’m straight,” Skee said. “Let’s go before these idiots start shooting.” It took awhile, but they made it to the parking lot where
Charles’s rust-brown Lincoln Towncar was stored. Skee had to get in from the passenger side and unlock Charles’s defective door. But before Charles got in, his attention went to the entourage of foxy young women walking to their cars, too lost in their giggly conversation to notice him. “Do yall need a ride?” Charles flirted. One of the girls turned to look at the condition of his Lincoln and said, “Do you need a ride?” The whole entourage burst into laughter. So did Skee. Charles was the only one who wasn’t amused. “Fuck all of yall bitches!” he shouted. The tallest girl in the group, the one with the russet splasheffect birthmark on the left side of her face, stormed towards Charles in a rage. “I ain’t no bitch!” she flared, waving an accusing finger at his nose. “Yo momma’s a bitch, you fat-ass pussy!” Her friends rallied behind her, shouting their own obscenities in a choir of noise. Skee climbed back out the car. “He didn’t mean to say that shit yall. He‘s havin’ a bad day. C’mon, Charles, get in the car.” But Charles was staring icily at the tall girl, as the group continued cursing him out. He cocked back and smacked the hell out of the tall one. She stumbled back, broke a heel, fell into the arms of her friends and knocked three of them down. Charles reared his hand again, to strike another one of the girls, but Skee caught his hand. “What the hell are you doing?!” Skee exclaimed. The females helped each other up. “I’ma get my cousin, nigga!” the tall girl snapped. “I’ma get my cousin!” She took
off her heels and scampered away barefoot, deeper into the parking lot with her friends. “Go get him!” Charles dared. Skee got back in the Lincoln before Charles and lit up a cigarette hastily. “Let’s go before that ho really do go get her cousin.” He tried to power his window down, to dump the ashes from his Newport, but the wiring had shorted out somewhere. “You need to get this fixed,” Skee said, fidgeting with the button. He dumped the ashes in an empty Subway cup on the floor. Charles was silent, hadn’t stuck the key in the ignition, hadn’t even blinked. Skee knew he was thinking about the untimely deaths of his parents. “Don’t let it get to you,” Skee said. He passed the cigarette to him. “But you didn’t have to hit that girl. Control yo’self next time. You makin’ me look bad. Embarrassing me. Start handlin’ yo emotions better, you hear me?” Charles took a long drag on the Newport and remained silent. “She was kinda ugly, though,” Skee added. Charles gave a faint smile, but it disappeared under the weight of his grief. “She shouldn’t have said nothin’ about my momma. You know I feel about my momma and my daddy. They got killed in a dumb-ass car crash.” “I feel you, bro. Because I feel the same way about my momma. But you invited that bullshit from them bitches. Once you learn how to talk to females you won’t have these problems. You gotta make ‘em feel comfortable, and you can’t do that by yelling across the parking lot. Talkin’ to girls in groups is a no-no anyway. Approach a girl when she’s by herself and you stand a better chance.”
“I won’t let it happen again.” “Whatever, nigga,” Skee doubted. “Just take me back out South. Hurry up.” Charles pumped the gas pedal, turned the ignition, the car stalled. “Let’s try this again,” he said. He pumped and turned once more, and this time the Lincoln Towncar woke up groggily. “There we go! You just gotta give it a little love and it’ll—” Charles saw it coming. The butt of a firearm shattered his driver side window, glass bits speckling all over him like hail. “Get the fuck out the car!” someone yelled. Charles screamed, shifted into drive off pure instincts and stomped on the gas pedal. The tires screeched, and the Lincoln took off. Gunshots immediately ensued, filling the night with horror. Bullets raked through the Lincoln, front to back. Skee had to grab the wheel abruptly to help Charles make the sharp turn out the parking lot. They almost clipped someone’s Mercedes-Benz. Patting himself down for entry holes, Skee said, “Thank God I’m still in one piece.” He turned to Charles—and he freaked out. “Pull over! You got hit!” “I’m hit?” Charles frowned as if he misunderstood him because he glanced down and saw nothing wrong. “In the back!” Skee said. One hand on the steering wheel, Charles reached around himself and touched his suddenly uncomfortable lower back. He felt a warm stickiness on his sweat shirt. And, sure enough, when he looked at his fingertips, they were smeared with blood. “I’m hit!” he shrieked.
But he couldn’t pull over. He was burning up the left lane, and cars wouldn’t let him merge right. He started breathing hard, sweating, and he felt light-headed and weak. He was sure he lost a pint of blood already! More so out of panic than pain, Charles lost consciousness. He fell limp on the steering wheel, causing the horn to blare madly. “Fuck!” Skee shouted, grabbing a hold of the wheel again, as the Lincoln drifted onto the other side of the road. An oncoming car swerved out their way, but another was headed straight for them, horn-honking as if Skee wasn’t desperately trying to shove Charles off the wheel. He managed to budge Charles against his door and yank the wheel in time, forcing the car back over the yellow divider. But he still didn’t have control. He tried to push the brake but Charles’s fat legs were in the way. They were about to ram the back of a pick-up truck! So Skee yanked the wheel again, hard right, used too much force and hopped the curb at sixty miles per hour. The rusty Lincoln crashed head-on into a lightpole.
CHAPTER 2 The next morning Skee woke up with a massive
headache. Sitting up on his mattress, he slapped his hands to his forehead and tried to squeeze out the pain. “My damn brain hurts,” he groaned. “I’ma kill Charles when he get out the hospital.” Even without his seat belt, Skee survived last night’s crash with only a few bruised ribs and a migraine. It could’ve been worse, he knew. He could be dead. And if he kept allowing Charles to suck him into risky situations, he might not be able to walk away next time. One of the only reasons Skee chose to ride with Charles to Westport was because he didn’t have a car of his own. Skee needed a cigarette, and by chance he still had one left in the pack on his nightstand. He fired it up, then went to his mother’s room and knocked on her door. “Momma! Let me use yo car so I can run down to the gas station. I need another pack of ‘Ports.” He also needed the money for the cigarettes. But if he asked for two things at once, for some psychological reason his mother would give him two definite no’s. One thing at a time, Skee had learned. Secure the car, then ask for the money. “Momma!” He knocked again. No answer. He turned the knob, opened it and looked in. The room was empty. “Damn, she always gone.”
After Skee showered, he walked through the two-bedroom apartment in the blue boxers he had on yesterday. He heated up some pizza rolls in the microwave, mumbled some T.I. lyrics while he waited for the timer to beep. Hot plate in hand, he shuffled into the living room, sat on the couch and watched the morning news. Until the phone rang. “Hello?” he answered. “How you feelin’?” “Who is this?” Skee asked, even though he knew it was his girlfriend Ariana. “Boy, you better stop playin’ wit’ me. I just came from church and I’m tired as a mug. I made sure I said a prayer for you and Charles.” “Thank you. And I appreciate you comin’ to pick me up from the hospital. I still got a headache.” “Poor baby,” Ariana cooed, as if she was talking to a toddler. “You want me to kiss the boo-boo for you?” “You teasin’ me now?” “Yep. How’s Momma doing?” “I don’t know, she ain’t here. She probably at one of her boyfriends’ house. So you should go ahead and come on over here. I’m lonely.” “I just told you I’m tired.” Skee knew his girl, knew the overtones and timbers of her voice, and knew when she wanted him to beg. “I heard what you told me,” he replied. “But it ain’t like I’m askin’ you to walk over here.” “It’s a long drive, though.”
“That never stopped you before. Ay, pick me up some Newports on the way.” “I didn’t even say I was comin’! And you told me you”— the phone muted her for a second—”stop smokin’ this month.” “Ariana, hold on, my phone just beeped. Somebody’s tryna call in. Hold on.” Skee clicked over. An operator, female, transmitted a recording: “You have a collect call from ...” There was a pause, then a male voice on tape: “This is Ant.” Skee listened to the operator’s instructions and accepted the call. “Wussup, cuzz!” Ant exclaimed. “You know, everything’s everything. Same bitch, different condom. But hold on for a second, I got Ariana on the other line.” Skee clicked back to his girl, told her who he was talking to and rushed her—pleaded with her—to give him a yes on the Sunday morning visit. She softened and promised to come, but not with the cigarettes, though. On the line with Ant again, Skee said, “When you gettin’ out? You been in the county over a month now.” “A few more weeks at the most,” Ant predicted. “They only got me on probation violation from that stolen car I was ridin’ in for like four months. I should’ve just parked the car and left it, but it was just too clean.” “It was clean because you made it clean.” The Cadillac CTS Ant had stole was definitely a nice car. The only problem was Ant drove it around the city like it really belonged to him. After having it for three weeks, he installed his own MTX Audio speakers, replaced the factory wheels with chrome Davins, and even put a GOT SWAG? bumper sticker
on the back. The CTS was completely remodeled when the police caught him in it. “Ariana said wussup.” “You still fuck wit’ her?” Ant asked. “Whaddaya mean? She’s a keeper.” “I can tell. You been wit’ her for two years. That’s marriage territory.” “I’m too thizzed-out for marriage.” “I don’t know. I think she got you whipped.” “That might be true,” Skee joked, and they both laughed. “Oh, you won’t believe what happened last night.” “What?” “Charles got shot at Westport. Some nigga started shootin’ at us because Charles slapped dude’s cousin in the face. He went unconscious behind the wheel and we smacked a pole.” “That was yall?! I saw it on the news.” “Did you? I was tryna catch it on channel four and channel nine this morning, didn’t catch nothin’ but the weather. Crazy shit last night.” “I might sound like a hater,” Ant started, “but I wish the nigga who shot at yall would’ve got caught. Put him right in here wit’ me. And whatever module he got put in, me and Dre El would’ve got there and fucked him up real good. Do you got a strap?” “Nope. The .380 I got from you ... my momma found it when I left it under her seat in her car and she took it.” “Just go down to the block and get one from O.G. Banks. You know he won’t charge you. It’s better to get caught with than without.” “A’ight,” Skee agreed. “I’ll probably go down there later.”
“Make sure you do that,” Ant insisted. Since the age of nine, Skee and Ant had been true best friends, weaseling in all sorts of petty crimes together. Growing up on 27th and Olive, a disadvantaged neighborhood on the Northside of Kansas City, they saw so much wrongdoing that it was almost ingrained in them to have little respect for the law. The biggest crime they committed together to date was strongarming a restaurant manager out his bank deposit bag. Skee was fortunate enough to graduate from Central high school, and his mother was fortunate enough to get a new job and move them South. Ant didn’t graduate, but he made his way to the Southside of town, too, by impregnating an older woman and moving in her apartment. “Call my baby momma for me before the time run out,” Ant said. Skee used the phone’s three-way to connect Ant and Tamika. They jumped into a war of words right away. Ant wanted a visit with his son, Tamika said she didn’t have time to bring him, Ant wanted her to make time, Tamika told him he didn‘t run shit, Ant promised to kick her ass, she promised to kick his, and after the operator cut in with, “You have one minute left,” she put their son on the phone and let Ant tell the 3-year-old how much he loved him. “Hello?” Tamika said. “His thirty minutes is up,” Skee said. “They disconnected the call.” “Next time you talk to that nigga, tell his ass not to call me.” She hung up. Skee went to his room and picked his pants up. He didn‘t put them on; he just took all the numbers he collected yesterday
out the pockets and stuffed them in an empty stick of deodorant. Ariana would never find them there. Thirty minutes later there was a knock at the front door. Skee opened it, and the first thing he noticed about his girlfriend was the allure in her light-brown eyes. They still fascinated him. “Hi,” he said. “Hi back. Why you ain’t dressed?” “You know why.” He licked his lips as if he could actually taste her butter pecan complexion. Then he took a few locks of her long jet-black hair into his hand just to feel the silky soft texture. She flipped her hair over her shoulder, out his grasp. “Can I come in? Or do you want me to leave?” “Where’s my cigarettes at?” Ariana reached under her arm, in her purse, and pulled out a pack of Newports. She slammed the cigarettes into his lean chest, pushing her way into the apartment. Skee followed her into the living room and sat beside her on the couch. She kicked off her pumps, placed her feet in his lap. “Massage, please.” Skee wanted to get straight to sex. But if giving her little toes a nice little rub down would get it going, then that’s what he had to do. “How’s yo day been so far?” he asked, his thumb pressing soothingly into the instep of her left foot. “Pretty good, actually. Thank you for asking. I woke up early so I could set up the stage for the children’s play at church. The kids did good, too. You should’ve seen it. The little boy that played Abraham had on a fake beard that kept slipping off. When he came off stage, I had to tape it up.”
“You had to tape it up?” Skee echoed, seemingly interested. “And all they had was that yellow tape, so it looked kinda funny.” She giggled. “They did good, though. What about you? How is Skee Boo doing?” “Other than a little headache, I’m superb.” “I got somethin’ for that headache.” She sorted through her purse and came out with a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol. Skee put the pills on the end table. “I’ll take some in a minute ... . You might need some later, too.” He winked. “You always thinkin’ nasty. You need to be thinkin’ about a job or school. Sittin’ around here ain’t doin’ nothin’ for you. Did you fill out the papers I gave you for that grant? You need to fill ‘em out so you can get in school.” “I’ma fill ‘em out. Quit rushin’ me about that shit.” Skee had her other foot now, rolling his palm deeply across her entire sole. He gave good massages. “And I’ma get a job when I get a job. I ain’t ‘bout to be workin’ for nobody right now, gettin’ told what to do eight hours a day.” “You gotta start somewhere, Skee Boo. I’m goin’ to school and working. It’s not that bad. After a while it becomes routine; you get used to it.” “That works for you, not me. I’ma have my own business one day.” “When?” Ariana questioned. “And how you gon’ start a business when you don’t even know how?” “I told you I’m gon’ fill out those papers and get in school. Once I get my car, I’ll be a’ight.” “And how you gonna get a car?” “Why you keep askin’ me all these fuckin’ questions?!” Skee shoved her feet off his lap and stood up like an outraged
ambassador—an ambassador in midnight-blue boxers. “You actin’ like you ain’t got no faith in me no more.” Ariana rose in a hurry, put her arms around him. “I’ll help you get a car, Skee Boo. And I’ll take care of you until you get on your feet, okay?” He didn’t hug her back; he let his arms hang by his sides limply. “You can take care of somethin’ for me right now,” he hinted. “C’mon,” Ariana gave in. She grabbed his hand and led him to his bedroom. She had a seat on the edge of his mattress and leaned back on her hands. She asked him to share some qualities he liked about her, and then she’d tell him what she saw in him next, instead of jumping right into a humpfest. But Skee started kissing her hungrily with no regard for setting the mood. His body covered hers as the kisses got more passionate. Ariana pushed him off of her while she could, before she got sucked into the moment. She walked over to the stereo on his floor, bent over at the waist and her skirt rose up the backs of her thighs. She put in Raheem DeVaughn’s The Love Experience and skipped to her favorite track on the CD, a sultry song called “Ask Yourself.” She hummed the melody out loud as she turned the volume up, then swirled around to face Skee. He was sitting in her spot, leaning back on his hands as she had. But his dick was out, tucked behind the waistband of his boxers and pressed against his stomach, but still out, long and harder than she’d ever seen it. “I’m ready,” he said with preying eyes. “I see.”
Ariana pulled her white blouse up over her head. The cups of her black brassiere supported her luscious jugs comfortably. She unhooked it in the back and let her soft breasts breathe, her pointy brown nipples waiting for Skee’s lips. Reaching under her skirt, she slowly pulled her white panties down, teasingly slow, until she stepped one foot out of them and kicked with the other foot. The panties went flying by the weight bench in the corner of the room. “Hurry up and take that skirt off,” Skee said. Ariana sauntered over to him and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Can you do it for me?” Skee unbuttoned her skirt and stripped her of the last of her Sunday’s best, revealing the immaculate hair follicles gathered around her pretty pussy. He didn’t even try to sniff, yet he breathed in a sweet kiwi fruit fragrance. He slid out of his boxers and reached for the condom on his nightstand. Ariana waited for him to roll it down his manhood—and pinch the tip so the latex would catch his semen— before she mounted him. She eased up and down, creaming all over the protection. “Uhn ...” she moaned. “Uhn ... uhn ... Skee, I missed you so much.” “You just saw me yesterday,” he said, gripping her hips and forcing her to go faster. Ariana was bouncing now, her big titties flopping in front of his face. He filled every inch of her, his wild pubes tickling her pussyhole. At first, they humped to the cadence of the music, but naturally they started fucking to their own primal instincts. The sensitivity of her labia smacking against the base of his dick made her scream:
“Fuck me! Yeah-yeah-yeah! Fuck me!” In one motion, Skee laid Ariana on her back. He put her legs on his shoulders and stuffed himself back into her. He felt a pain in his ribs, but ecstasy overpowered it. He began taking long thrusts inside her pleasure spot. “You like that, don’t you?” “Yes! Yes!” she squealed, caressing her own breasts. She had already climaxed twice. And she wouldn’t let him stop sexing her until she had another teeth-gritting orgasm, probably not even then. Ariana removed her legs from Skee’s shoulders and wrapped them around his waist, trapping him inside her pussy. She locked her arms around his neck again and held on. Skee kissed her glossy lips, then her neck, still maintaining a steady pace. The feeling was too much for him. He tried to pull out so he wouldn’t cum so soon, but her thighs were too strong. “Let me go, girl.” As soon as Ariana released her grip, Skee pulled out and turned her on her stomach. She arched her ass in the air, anticipating more of his manliness. From behind, he eased back in and put his hands on her perspiring back. He gained a good pace again, his own sweat dripping from his body in a fascinating sheen. Doggy-style was his favorite position. He felt in control. Ariana had her face pressed into the pillow, tightly clutching the sheets as he fiercely rammed in and out of her. “Mmm ... Uhn ... OH!” she climaxed again. The energy inside Skee was ready to be released. Ariana’s soft booty and wet fleshy walls made it impossible for him to hold off any longer.
“James! What did I tell you about fucking in my house?!” Skee’s mother shouted, seconds before he was about to ejaculate. She had just opened his bedroom door and was standing in the doorway. Ariana quickly covered herself with the sheets. The look on Skee’s face was not embarrassment, but disappointment. This might have been the best sex he ever had and now it was ruined. He put on his boxers and gave his mother a cold stare. Ariana waved shortly with her right hand, holding the sheet over her breasts with her left. When Stacy Skier saw it was Ariana her son was having sex with, her attitude quickly changed. “Oh, I’m sorry. Yall be safe,” she said, walking out the room and shutting the door behind her. “Oh my God! Yo momma’s gonna hate me now,” Ariana whined. She scurried out the bed to retrieve her panties. Skee watched her light-skinned booty jiggle freely across the room. “Stop trippin’. She know we be fuckin’.” “But we never got caught before! I feel so embarrassed.” “Damn, I didn’t even get to bust,” Skee chided himself. He looked at Ariana, who was still getting dressed. “Go down on me this time, baby. It’s not as bad as you think. If you don’t like it, then you won’t have to do it no more.” “Go down on you? I am not suckin’ yo thingie. That’s nasty. You must think I’m some kind of ho. Is that it? All you want from me is sex, right?” “No, that’s not even it. It’s just that every girl is supposed to go down on her man every once in a while. I don’t see why you think it’s nasty. It should be a natural thing.” “If it’s so natural, then why don’t you go down on me?”
Skee sighed. The reason he chose not to please Ariana orally was because he thought it would make him look weak. He figured every guy who ate pussy did it in order to be liked. He was already adored by a gang of females without using his tongue. It was supposed to be normal for women, though. “Because my sinuses—” he attempted to lie, but she cut him off. “Do you love me?” She sat next to him, staring into his brown eyes. She grabbed his hand and waited for an answer. “Yes,” he said. He loved the things she did for him—sex, money, transportation. That was why she was his main girl. He must love her. “Do you love me?” “I guess,” she said, smiling. She kissed him on the cheek. “I gotta go talk to Momma.” “A’ight. I need you to take me somewhere when you done. It won’t take long.” “Where?” “Down North,” he said. “How far down North?” “Twenty-seventh Street.” She rolled her eyes and left out. *** Once inside Stacy Skier’s room, Ariana noticed how tidy it was kept. Stacy’s bookshelf was neatly packed with hardcover and paperback books, with an encyclopedia collection on the bottom row. Pictures of African women balancing baskets on their heads aligned the walls. On her big bed, envelopes and invoices were organized into neat piles. Ariana admired her style, too.
The way Stacy wore that kimono blouse and those black capri tights made her look young. She had dark-brown skin—darker than Skee—with short crimpy hair. A young girl’s hairstyle. Ariana was trying to figure out what to say to this woman. Frustration was written all over her face. “Girl, sit down,” Stacy said, moving papers to the side so Ariana could be seated. “I don’t know why you got that pitiful look on yo face.” Ariana sat down. “You’re not mad at me, are you?” “No, I’m not mad at you. Everybody has sex from time to time. Even me. Do you remember what we talked about the other day?” “Yeah. You said relationships based on sex never last. And I don’t want you to think me and Skee don’t have a real relationship. I’m sorry for having sex in your house. It won’t happen again. My intentions weren’t to disrespect you. I really do love Skee and I know he loves me. Our relationship isn’t based on sex.” “I know you love that crazy boy. And whatever yall do is yall’s business. But if yall choose to have sex in this apartment then keep it down. Girl, you was screamin’ at the top of yo lungs.” They both laughed. “But seriously,” Stacy said, placing her hand on Ariana’s thigh, “I think you and my son are good for each other. I don’t think either one of you are ready for kids, so be safe. How old are you now, eighteen?” Ariana nodded. “You’re still a baby. I see you got your priorities together— school, work, church. Keep doing that. Skee is 20 years old and still doesn’t have it together. So don’t let my son distract you.” A car horn blared outside.
“I bet that’s him now,” Stacy said. “That’s him. He want me to take him all the way down to 27th Street. I don’t understand him sometimes.” “Don’t worry. I don’t either. But I need some time to myself, so take that boy somewhere. Just get him out of here.”
CHAPTER 3 Brotha Lynch Hung’s “Refuse To Lose” drummed
through the speakers of the Honda Civic LX. Bobbing his head to the music, Skee sped down 71 highway with Ariana riding shotgun. They were heading to O.G. Banks’s house on the Northside of Kansas City. O.G. Banks had an arsenal, and Skee needed protection. He felt helpless last night at Westport. Never again, he thought. Nowadays, it seemed like a nice throwaway pistol was as basic to have as a cell phone. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use it, but if push came to shove ... Ariana ejected Brotha Lynch’s CD, interrupting Skee’s train of thought. “Is you crazy? Put my CD back in!” “It’s my car and my CD player,” she stated, inserting a burnt disc of Nicki Minaj. “You can listen to Nicki on the way back.” “I can listen to what I want to, when I want to.” Skee lowered his window a tad and the highway wind roared. He ejected her disc from the Alpine CD player, but Ariana grabbed it as it came out, knowing he was about to throw it out the window. A few months ago Skee frisbied her Beyonce CD while they were driving. Ariana cut the CD player completely off. Skee noticed the stern look on her face. “You know I wasn’t about to throw yo CD out the window,” he said, raising it back up. “I was just playin’ wit’ you. I remember how mad you got
the last time and I’m not tryna go through that again. You can listen to whatever you want to on the way back. I just don’t want to pull up on the block witta female rapper screamin’ out the speakers. My ‘hood niggas might look at me funny.” “Where do you think our relationship is going, Skee?” “What did my momma say to you this time?” “It shouldn’t matter,” she said, turning in her seat to face him. “We’ve been together two years and I feel like all we do is have sex.” He glanced at her, and then focused back on the highroad. “What’s wrong with that?” he joked. She held in a laugh, then slapped him hard on his shoulder. “I’m serious!” “Our relationship is goin’ good,” he said. “I ain’t got nothin’ to complain about.” He had to change lanes because the car in front of him was moving too slow. And it gave him time to think. “This is the longest I’ve ever been involved wit’ a girl and there’s a reason for that. It’s because we belong together, and I want this to last forever. We still got a lot of good and bad times to come, but we seem to get through everything that comes our way. I feel comfortable around you. That makes it easier on me, as a man, to express my feelings to you. ‘Where is our relationship goin’?’ I don’t know. But I do know that it’s movin’ forward. And we don’t have sex all the time. I can count plenty of times where you was too tired or you just got yo hair done. Most of the time I gotta beg you. I think you enjoy my begging.” Ariana smiled guiltily. “Do you remember how long you made me wait?” Skee asked.
“It wasn’t that long.” “Eight months is long as a muthafucka. So if we do have sex a lot it’s because we makin’ up for the times we missed. But I care a lot about you, and it was worth the wait.” Skee always tried his best to give Ariana comforting words. That was his weapon against her random fits. Whenever she complained about them not spending enough time together, he’d tell her absence makes the heart grow fonder. The last time she brought up rumors about him cheating, he ushered her into the bathroom, pointed at her reflection in the mirror and said, “Who in their right mind would cheat on a fine-ass thang like that?” Sometimes it worked, and sometimes he’d just have to fuck her to sleep. “You believe in us, right?” he asked her now. “Yes,” she said, leaning on his shoulder. And once he put his arm around her and she sunk into his embrace, he knew she’d be fine. Close to twenty minutes later, Skee was turning onto the street where he was raised. As he laid eyes on the familiar houses, the vacant lot, the isolated apartment building that was still fenced in, he got a surge of nostalgia. He remembered the super fun years when he ran up and down this street without a care in the world. He used to play tackle football in the vacant lot. And when the city first put up the fence around the apartment building, he would always climb over it defiantly. As the Honda Civic eased past a shabby white house with no porch steps, Skee pointed to it excitedly. “That was my house! And right next to it at that green house is where Ant used to stay wit’ his auntie. Ant made that mailbox
in woodshop class, before he dropped out.” Ariana observed the rundown neighborhood with worried eyes. “I’m glad you made it out.” Skee laughed. “It wasn’t that bad.” The last time he came down to the block he was in a stolen car with Ant. It had been night time, and each end of the street was blocked off with orange traffic cones. Concert speakers flagged O.G. Banks’s front lawn. People from everywhere— not just the neighborhood—danced and drank and sang in the middle of the street: a block party. But now, this morning, 27th and Olive looked vacant. Nobody was outside today, unless the half-awake man sitting on the curb counted. Skee pulled over, finally, in front of one of the better preserved houses on the block. *** Through the blinds, Big Mark watched a used Honda Civic park in front of the house. He didn’t recognize the vehicle. “Anybody know somebody in a black Honda?” he called out. Murmurs of “no” and “not me” came from some of the other young brothas in the front room, the ones who weren’t too busy sorting drugs. One person said, “My baby momma got a silver Honda,” but nobody claimed the car outside. Paranoia crept in, so Big Mark turned from the window and made an announcement: “Code three!” In an orderly but quick manner, everybody in the house helped to hide the cocaine that was in plain view. Cabinets, couches, end table drawers—all places they hid dope. The lady
in the kitchen put lids on the bowls filled with powder, then she lit a cigarette. Nothing was permanently discarded. That would be a “Code Two.” And Big Mark hated those. *** “How long you gonna be?” Ariana asked. Skee opened his door and stepped out. “A few minutes.” He walked up to O.G. Banks’s door and knocked two times. After a brief wait, the door opened to Big Mark, who had an AR-15 gripped tight in both of his hands. He was a stocky, brown-skinned, six-foot-five giant. “Aw shit,” Big Mark said, realizing his mistake. He turned and yelled in the house, “It’s Skee! Yall can continue!” He turned back to Skee. “Get in here. Scared us half to death.” At least ten people were already inside the house. They were pulling drugs and money back out of different hiding places. Most of the people Skee knew and grew up with. Some were just faces. He walked across the thick carpet and gave dap to everybody in the room. He saw Tereesa in the kitchen and waved; she waved back with her cigarette hand. Then he sat down on the leather couch next to Big Mark, who started putting rubber bands around wads of hundred-dollar bills. An aquarium sat neatly in the wall behind Skee, and he couldn’t help but tap the glass and watch the exotic fish swim with astounding bursts of speed. “I always loved them fishies,” he said fondly. A huge flat-screen Samsung played an unreleased Tyler Perry movie. There was another leather couch across from
Skee, where other hustlers sat. One grabbed the remote and rewinded the movie a few frames. O.G. Banks was seated in a black leather recliner. He was a thin man, skin dark and shiny like a black pearl, with a thick beard and long dreadlocked hair. Smoking weed his whole life made his voice baritone. “What brings you to this side of the city, Skee?” “I just had to come down here and check on you. Make sure you doin’ alright.” “Business has been here and there this month. Unfortunately, a cop on our payroll had one of our packages intercepted to please his superiors and his pockets. Such a tragedy, because he’ll be missed by his family, I’m sure. It’s unsettling when a cooperative pig turns on us. But they always do, eventually. And they all get their fate handed to them. The African philosopher Ptahhotep once said, ‘Injustice exists in abundance, but evil can never succeed in the long run.’” Skee nodded his head. “Where’s yo boy Ant at?” Big Mark asked. “Usually when I see you, I see him, too.” “He’s locked up. I just talked to him this morning. He said he’ll probably be out in a few more weeks. It ain’t the same out here without him.” O.G. Banks asked Tereesa for a light. She lit his blunt while it was still in his mouth. He puffed, then let out a cloud of smoke. “Ant has been to jail too many times. I should know; I bonded him out on too many occasions. I always try to tell him to save his money. That way he can bond out whenever the problem presents itself, since he likes to ride around in those
stolen cars. And I hope that’s not a stolen car outside now. We have enough illegal activity going on as it is.” “Nah, that’s my girl’s car. She’s waitin’ outside. I told her I was just stoppin’ through so she decided to wait in the car.” “Did Ant ask you to come down here and ask me to bond him out? How much is his bond?” O.G. Banks handed Skee the blunt. Skee puffed on it two times and passed it back. “He doesn’t have a bond. He’s in there on a probation violation. But he did tell me to come down here.” He felt the weed taking effect already. “That’s some good shit. I haven’t been high in a couple days.” “Well, this will definitely elevate you,” O.G. Banks stated proudly, taking another pull himself. “So why did Ant tell you to come down here?” “I got into a wreck last night. Some nigga started shootin’ at us, and my boy that was drivin’ got hit. Then we crashed into a lightpole.” “Yall didn’t bust back?” Big Mark asked. “That’s the problem. We didn’t have a gun.” Big Mark pulled out a .40-caliber pistol from his waist and set it on the glass table. “Now you do.” “No. No. No. Big Mark, you are not about to give my young comrade a hot gun. Who knows who you’ve killed with that.” “I haven’t shot nobody with this one.” “Come down to my office, Skee. I’ll get you something clean.” O.G. Banks escorted Skee to the basement; it was just as decked out as upstairs. Bottles of cognac and expensive wines sat on shelves behind the mahogany bar. In the far corner there
was a huge entertainment center, and on the wall beside it was a showcase of cool-looking firearms. Some of the handguns and assault rifles were loaded, Skee noticed. O.G. Banks was ready for a war. “All these guns you see on this wall are legal,” O.G. Banks informed him, pointing to each weapon. “I’ve been living for 47 years and not once have I been convicted of a crime. Charged, but never convicted. The key is to be astute and prudent. And that entails protecting yourself. In other words, self-defense. It’s the first law of nature.” Underneath the gun collection was a pile of boxes. O.G. Banks picked up one of the smaller ones and handed it to Skee. “What’s this?” “A brand new 9mm HS 2000. It’s a Croatian weapon. There’s some ammunition in there also. If you feel threatened, and you have to kill someone, don’t hesitate. Then bring the weapon back here and I’ll replace it.” “Hopefully I won’t have to.” “I hope so, too. And if you have a problem bigger than you can handle, you can always call me.” He wrote down his direct number and gave it to Skee. “Well, you should be squared away. Is there anything else you need?” The only thing Skee needed was weed. He noticed how O.G. Banks smoked it carefree, so there were probably pounds just laying somewhere. “I’m tryna get this money just like you,” he said. “What’s stoppin’ me is the product. I figure if you can front me a couple pounds of weed then it’ll benefit both of us. All I need is a start.” O.G. Banks seemed skeptical. “Don’t you smoke weed?
You just hit the blunt I passed you, am I correct?” “Yeah, but I won’t smoke what you give me.” After a deep breath, O.G. Banks said, “I’ll tell you what ... I’ma give you one pound for free. Let me see what you do with that, and then we can talk about further opportunities.” “A’ight. I appreciate this, O.G. Banks.” “No problem.” A moment later Skee stepped out onto the front porch hugging a brown paper bag filled with all the stuff O.G. Banks had given him. He made his way to the curb, where Ariana waited with her window down, jamming Nicki Minaj’s “Did It On’em.” “Pop the trunk,” Skee told her. The trunk unlocked with a click, and Skee placed his bag inside with Ariana’s assorted clothes, shoes, and school books. He approached her side of the car and opened the door. “Scoot over to the driver side, baby. It’s yo turn to drive.” “Who is that?” she asked, pointing with her eyes. Skee turned. “Oh, that’s O.G. Banks. Scoot over.”
CHAPTER 4 Skee slouched low in the seat, his central nervous
system completely out of whack. It was the marijuana … and it was unbearable! He was unusually hot, and outside the car the Missouri landscape looked animated. Trees and houses passed by so fast that they started to blend together. Ariana had to be speeding. “Slow down,” Skee said to her. “You driving too fast.” Maybe he spoke too low because she didn’t respond. He thought he said it loud enough. Was his voice gone? “Slow down!” “Boy, why are you yelling?” “Because ... you’re not listening to me. You need to slow down before you get a ticket.” “How slow do you want me to go? I’m doin’ the speed limit.” “Slower, baby. Slower.” Ignoring him, Ariana continued listening to her music. And Skee took notice of her exposed thigh, flexing every time she hit the gas. He placed his hand on her leg. “Tender,” he whispered, squeezing. “Golden like a chicken wing. And thick. You been workin’ out?” “No.” She smiled. “Boy, you know I used to run track.” Skee crept his fingers up her thigh and under her skirt. She smacked his hand. “Stop it. You see I’m driving.”
Bored, slouching back in the seat again, his eyes wandered back out the window. He starting seeing buildings he recognized. An Applebee’s, an elementary school, the DMV. If he wasn’t mistaken, they were in Raytown … … the city where the police had the highest ratio of traffic stops! He started panicking. If the cops happened to search the trunk, they’d find the gun and the weed—and he was going to jail! With suspicion in his tone, he asked his girl, “Where are we?” “Raytown,” she answered happily. “What the fuck we doin’ in Raytown?! You supposed to be takin’ me to the crib!” Skee’s high was blown. “We goin’ to my house. I’m hungry and my momma is cooking a Sunday meal. You haven’t talked to my parents in a long time either, and they been askin’ about you.” “I don’t care about that right now. Turn this car around and take me home!” “So you sayin’ you don’t care about my family? If you don’t care about them, then you don’t care about me. I can’t believe you, Skee! You don’t make no effort in showing that you love me. Something as simple as going to my house is too much for you. I bet if my parents weren’t there you would want to go.” In the midst of her argument, a police car appeared in the side-view mirror. Skee slowly put on his seat belt. All the muscles in his body tensed up. “I’m not takin’ you home,” Ariana continued. “I’ll take you home after we eat.” She blinked back tears, but one fell down her cheek anyway. Then she began to repeatedly smack Skee
on his shoulder for making her cry. Skee forced her hand to her side. “The police is behind us! You tryna get me arrested?!” “So what? ‘I don’t care about that right now,’” she mocked. The police car switched lanes and passed by them. Skee exhaled all the breath in his body. “Why are you worried about the police? It ain’t like you would do anything illegal anyway.” Skee closed his eyes and silently prayed that he made it back home safely. *** Mrs. Houston had cooked a delicious meal. There was enough food left over to feed another family of three, or one hungry grown man. The spicy fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, peppered mashed potatoes and gravy, french fries and iced tea had Skee’s stomach loaded. Ariana still had a sad look on her face and barely ate anything at all. She was picking at her food with a fork. “This was some good grub, Mrs. Houston, and I was really starving.” Skee burped with his mouth closed. “Excuse me. I wish my stomach would allow me to eat more.” “I’m glad you liked it. Are you going to stay for dinner?” “No,” Ariana butted in. Mrs. Houston looked at her daughter and then back at Skee. Her brow creased in concern. “I can’t,” Skee answered. “I got some things I need to get done at home. I just wanted to stop by and see the family. Where’s Mr. Houston at?”
“He’s probably still at work. He should have been back by now, but work tends to occupy most of his time.” Mrs. Houston wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Ariana told me you got into an accident last night. I hope everything’s all right. You don’t look too banged up at all.” “It was a friend of mine who got seriously hurt. But he’s gettin’ better.” “That’s good. That Westport isn’t the best place to hang out at. I keep hearing about people getting hurt down there.” The physical resemblance between Mrs. Houston and Ariana was unmistakable—their buttery complexions were the same, but even more than that, their light-brown eyes carried a natural sense of compassion. “From what happened last night,” Skee said, “I don’t ever wanna go down there again.” “You don’t ever wanna do nothin’,” Ariana retorted, still picking at her food. “Well,” Mrs. Houston finalized, getting up from the table and collecting the plates, “you two can head on out if you want to. It ain’t no sense in both of yall sitting at the table giving each other mean looks.” Ariana got up and grabbed her purse. She said good-bye to her mother and stormed out the house. Skee tried to help Mrs. Houston clear the table but she stopped him. “You better go before she leaves you.” “Yeah, she probably will. Let me get going. It was nice seeing you, Mrs. Houston.” “You too.” As Skee walked out the house, he saw a black Chevy Suburban pull in the driveway. It looked like it had just been de-
tailed from the way it gleamed. A light-skinned man in a slate business suit stepped out. Hints of gray littered his mustache and the hairline of his ponytail. He smiled brightly. “Skee!” he beckoned, embracing his daughter’s boyfriend. “You’re about to leave? I just got here. Stay a little longer, son.” “I wish I could. I gotta head back home.” “I need to talk to you about a business proposition. I’m getting too many customers at my dealership and I need some more young help. We’re falling behind. Ariana told me you’re not working, and this is guaranteed employment.” “I appreciate the offer, Mr. Houston, but I already got somethin’ up my sleeve.” “You sure? I could really use you.” “I’m sure. No disrespect, but I’m tryna do my own thang. I should be workin’ real soon.” “That’s understandable. If you change your mind, let me know.” Mr. Houston glanced at his daughter. Her arms were crossed in the driver seat of the Honda. “But tell me why my baby girl is sitting in her car looking upset.” “She’s mad at me.” “What’d you do?” “Nothin’. I didn’t do nothin’. She’s just in one of her moods.” Mr. Houston put his hand on Skee’s shoulder. “When she gets back to this house, she better be happy. Because when she’s mad at you, she’s mad at me. I can’t have that.” “A’ight.” They shook hands, hugged again, and Skee hopped in the passenger seat of the tension-filled Honda Civic.
Half an hour later, after the paranoia of being pulled over faded away, Skee thought about how much Mr. Houston treated him like his own son. Skee could talk to him as a friend, curse words and all, without feeling he was disrespecting an elder. And he was somebody Skee could look up to. Mr. Houston had his own business. Skee wasn’t trying to find a father or anything like that, though. He’d known and loved his own biological father, who died from lung cancer when he was twelve. They played basketball together on weekends, drag-raced on dirt roads during the summer—all that father/son stuff. He just respected Mr. Houston. The first words that were spoken during the ride home came from Skee. He told Ariana to stop at the gas station so he could pick up some sandwich bags for his mother. Ariana Parked next to the nearest gas pump and opened her door. “Where you goin’?” Skee asked. “You said yo momma need some sandwich bags, didn’t you? And I need some gas, too, so why you keep botherin’ me?” “Get me some Skittles while you in there.” “Ugh,” she detested, shutting the door and walking off. Skee switched CDs, put back in Brotha Lynch. It wasn’t long before he saw Ariana in the rearview, coming back out the store. She was holding the door open for a brotha with cornrowed braids. When Skee saw the man’s lips move and Ariana smile, he snapped his head around and strained to look out the back window. “What the hell are they talkin’ about?” he said to himself. Curious, he stepped out the car and opened the gas cap. He
could hear their conversation. “You smiled,” the brotha said to his girl with a flirty grin, “so it must be true.” “No, I’m not famous,” Ariana said. “I just smiled because it was a nice compliment. You know you’ve seen me before.” Skee felt a little jealousy start to boil up. He wondered if his girl was impressed with the brotha’s platinum chain, and the huge “SS” pendant connected to it. Squinting, Skee saw he had on a nice watch too, pocked with a few precious stones. “We never got a chance to properly meet,” the brotha said. “I be seein’ you around and I be wantin’ to talk to you but you know how nosy them fools be at Longview. Always in yo business. I’m Scrill,” he said, extending his hand. Ariana shook it. “I’m Ariana,” she said. “I know who you are. I heard a lot about you. I was thinkin’ that maybe I could get yo number, or you could take mine.” Skee heard the nozzle click, but he kept pretending to pump. Scrill actually turned and looked at him, and their eyes met for a moment. Skee mugged him. “I can’t give you my number because I got a boyfriend,” Ariana said. ”And I don’t think my father would want me dating one of his employees.” “I’m not lookin’ for a date, just some conversation. I guess that’s your boyfriend over there.” Ariana turned and looked. “Yeah, that’s him. He wouldn’t like it if I gave you my number.” “That’s coo’,” Scrill said, tapping a pack of Black and Milds against his palm. “Tell your father I said hey, and I guess I’ll see you tomorrow at school.”
“Okay.” Scrill deactivated the alarm on his orange, ‘72 Chevy Chevelle SS. When he was inside, he cranked the volume up on his stereo system, bass vibrating his trunk. His gold hundred-spoke rims glistened as he wheeled out the parking lot onto Bannister Road. “Where did yo boy go?” Skee asked as Ariana approached. “That wasn’t ‘my boy.’ He just go to my school and work with my father and stopped to say hi. I barely even know him.” She paused. “And what are you doing pumping gas? You never pump gas.” “I’m tryna be helpful.” “Mmm-hmm,” she doubted. Linden Hills was right up the street. It was a community blended with nice apartments, duplexes, houses—and even new condos—bordered with dense forestry. Police patrolled routinely, but mostly they only showed up when they were called. The secluded area was a perfect spot for Skee’s upcoming weed business. “Call me when you get home,” Skee said when they were parked in front of his building. “I might,” Ariana pouted. “Baby, if you still mad at me for not wanting to go over yo parents’ house, then I apologize. I had a good time. I would’ve had an even better time if you wasn’t thinkin’ about stabbin’ me with that fork.” She grinned. “Now can I get a hug before I go in here and listen to my momma’s attitude?” He leaned close to her, and when she moved away, he said, “Don’t act like that.”
“I still remember when you left me at the beauty parlor and you didn’t come back with my car for hours,” she said. “I told you I got a flat.” “What about the time I let you borrow two hundred dollars and you never paid me back?” “You always tell me I don’t have to pay you back. That’s what this is about? Money?” “You know it’s not about money. I’m just not sure if you really love me or not. Brandy be tellin’ me you cheatin’ on me. She said she be hearin’ about you all the time.” “Brandy’s a natural liar. She just wants to ruin a good thing.” “Who do you be messin’ with besides me?” “Nobody! Why would I wanna fuck anybody else? You know you got that fire pussy.” Ariana’s mouth dropped from shock. “I gotta go,” Skee said. “I’m through arguing wit’ you.” He opened his door, grabbed the candy and sandwich bags, then got out the car. “Pop the trunk,” he said. The trunk clicked and Skee lifted it up, got his brown bag out. He stopped at Ariana’s window and rested one of his forearms on top of the car, holding the bag out of sight with his other hand. Ariana tugged on his Stafford tee and he leaned in and kissed her. “I’ma call you when I make it home,” she said. And as Skee walked away, Ariana asked, “What’s in the bag?” But he had already disappeared inside the building before she could repeat her question.
CHAPTER 5 About a month later, mid July, Skee was sitting on
his stoop under the blazing sun. In a tank top, he was still faint from heat, with beads of sweat on his forehead. The only thing that kept him from passing out was his chilled James Lemonade. He had a blunt lit, trying to access the internet on his new cell phone. The house phone was placed beside him, facedown. A 7-year-old girl wrapped in a beach towel came running over to Skee. Either she was just coming from the community pool or headed to it. Her hair was wet, so he guessed the former. “My sister like you,” she said. “Her name is Janae and she’s cute.” Before Skee could respond, a teenaged girl who must have been Janae came running over with an irritated expression. She seized her little sister’s hand. “What did you tell him?” “Nothin’,” the little girl said, laughing. “She said you liked me,” Skee spoke up. The tight jean shorts and bikini top Janae wore intrigued him. “Is that true?” “Don’t listen to her. She’s just a bad little girl,” she replied, and walked away, gripping her little sister’s wrist painfully tight. Janae, Skee said to himself, logging her name in his memory. With her slim frame and deep chocolate skin, she was a looker. He would’ve called for her to come back, but his cell phone rang. “Hello?”
“Skee?” “Yeah, who is this?” “This is Robert. I need—” Skee cut him off. “Call me back at my home number when I hang up.” “For what?” “Just do it,” Skee said. He hung up and a few seconds later the cordless house phone rang. “What you need?” “Damn,” Robert said. “You on some James Bond double o’ seven shit.” “Gotta save minutes. What you need?” “A pound.” Skee was still watching Janae walk away. She had a nice butt. Not the biggest he ever saw, but nice. When she turned around and looked back at him, he diverted his eyes. “Hello?” “My fault,” Skee said. “I got distracted. What you say you need again?” “You must be high right now because I know I said a pound loud and clear. See, that’s why I be fuckin’ wit’ you, Skee. Because you got that kill.” Skee took another hit of his blunt. “A pound? You usually get a ounce or less. All them T-shirts you been sellin’ is startin’ to pay off, huh?” “That’s my hustle. T-shirts for thee dirt,” he rhymed. “Meet you at the same place, right?” “Nah. I ain’t got my girl’s car right now. And my momma ain’t here. Meet me at the gas station off Bannister Road.” The only thing Skee could find to conceal the pound of marijuana was an old high school backpack that had been bur-
ied in his closet for years. He left the apartment through the sliding door on the side, hopped the railing and took a wooded path around back. As he trekked down the steep slope, his sweat pants were getting caught on the brush. He pushed the tree limbs out the way and kept it moving. With his backpack in tow, Skee emerged from the woods catching a glimpse of Robert’s Corolla pulling into the gas station. He recognized Robert’s ride because it was the only one with a yellow front fender. When Skee finally walked up on the car, he noticed two other people inside. Robert usually rode alone. Normally, Skee would have been cautious of a customer bringing friends, but Robert hadn’t seemed like the shady type in the weeks he’d known him. “Get in,” Robert said. A heavyset man in a black du-rag was sitting in the passenger seat, so Skee sat in the back, directly behind Robert, with another mysterious guy. This guy beside Skee had one gold tooth, and nodded at him; Skee nodded back. He took off his backpack and handed it up to Robert, resting his back on the warm nylon seats. “There you go,” Skee said. “I take cash only.” “How much did you say it was?” Robert asked, a nervous tremor in his voice. “You owe me $550. It don’t get no better than that.” “Yes it does,” the man sitting beside Skee said, brandishing a .25-caliber handgun from his pocket. Skee was stunned. He looked in the man’s eyes to see if he was serious, and the man pulled back the hammer on the small pistol.
“Empty yo pockets, nigga!” By this time, the heavyset man in the front seat was looking through the backpack. Skee handed the gunman the $85 he had in his sweat pants. Flipping through the money, the gunman said, “What the fuck? Robert, I thought you said this nigga was ballin’.” Robert was more focused on the different people walking in and out of the gas station. He looked at the gunman. “I thought he was ballin’. Every time I see him he’s in a different whip, a Honda or a Maxima. Check his socks.” Skee sucked his teeth. “Robert, you know them is my people’s cars. I had to walk to meet you today. I ain’t doin’ shit out here. You probably got more money than me.” The gunman reached in Skee’s socks and pulled out a roll of money. “This look like about five hundred.” “This is fucked up,” Skee said. “Yall gon’ rob me for a pound and a couple hundred bucks?” Skee was more mad at Robert than the brotha holding the gun ... until the brotha punched Skee in the face. “Shut the fuck up! Get out the car right now and keep walkin’ or I’ll kill you!” Skee was frozen from anger. He touched his nose; it wasn’t bleeding. Then Robert weakly urged him to leave. “Just get out the car, Skee.” Skee was hesitant. “Get out!” the gunman barked. Skee was literally shoved out. He stood on the curb and watched the beat-up Toyota Corolla drive away with his weed
and his money. He got robbed by some amatuers, and cursed himself for leaving his gun at home.
CHAPTER 6 Skee waited until the next day to call and tell O.G.
Banks what happened. The baritone gangsta didn’t seem to be upset that Skee was robbed, but why not? Skee wondered. He lost a whole damn pound! O.G. Banks simply told Skee he needed to see him whenever he could get a ride down North. But for awhile Skee avoided leaving the house, busying himself with a couple chores. He dusted the living room and mopped the kitchen floor, as his mother had instructed before she went to work. The tasks were giving him time to come up with an explanation; one was forming in his head. He could promise O.G. Banks that he’d carry his gun on every transaction, or make his customers give him the money before he gave up the product. Skee would promise to do anything, as long as he didn’t get cut off. Just as a thought began to solidify, the phone rang, breaking his concentration. Please don’t be O.G. Banks, he prayed. And when he checked the caller ID, he uttered “thank you” to the ceiling. “You have a collect call from ... “ the pre-recorded operator began. When Skee heard his homeboy state his name, he accepted the call. “I’m gettin’ out today, cuzz!” Ant yelled through the phone. “Straight up?” “Yeah. They should be lettin’ me go in a couple hours. You
think yo moms will let you get the car to pick me up?” “Tamika ain’t gon’ pick you up?” “I don’t even want her to know I’m out. I’m tryna kick-it. If she pick me up, I’ma be back in here on domestic violence.” “I hear you. If my moms don’t let me get the car, I’ll find a ride somewhere.” “Good lookin’ out, cuzz. I appreciate that money you and moms been sendin’, too. I would’ve starved in here without it.” “If I got it, you got it.” Luckily, Skee was able to get the Maxima without a big hassle. He listened to C-Murder’s “Down for my Niggas” on the way to the Jackson County Detention Center. He had to park across the street, on East 13th, in front of the DMV building because there were no other places to park in front of the jail. From his parking spot, Skee could see the faces of the inmates in the small rectangular windows. There were many floors full of faces looking out into the free world. They were trapped. Skee couldn’t imagine himself in there, or bear seeing his friend through the glass in the visiting room. That was why he only came to see Ant once. There was a saying that if one stared at the enormous detention center for too long, then one would end up inside. So Skee looked away. A short while later, Anthony Dunn strolled out the front door of the jail carrying a black trash bag full of his personal property. Ant was real dark-skinned. He still had the same fade with the same goatee. Since he’d been locked up, it looked like he’d gained more muscle than Skee, appearing older, but they
both were the same age. Skee honked his horn, and Ant came walking over. Skee was already outside the car. They embraced in a strong brotherly hug. “It feels good to be on the streets again,” Ant said. “I’m glad you back out here. You ready to go?” “Hold up.” Ant stretched his arms out towards the side of the jail in a welcoming gesture. Then, to Skee’s amazement, the inmates banged on the windows simultaneously. The celebratory pounding resonated. “You see Dre El?” “Dre El from 27th and Park? Where?” “The window with the yellow paper in it.” Skee scanned the windows until he saw Dre El waving a yellow piece of legal paper back and forth to get their attention. Skee flashed his set, representing 27th Street, and the loud beating erupted again. “He killed two police officers in a shoot-out, so I think he‘s gon’ be in there for a minute,” Ant said as they got in the car. “He said they offered him life without, instead of the death penalty.” “Damn,” Skee lamented. “I couldn’t spend the rest of my life in prison. If I was in that position, I think I would just have to rack ‘em.” “I feel you.” They pulled off. “So where you wanna go?” Skee asked. “Take me to Tiffany’s house, cuzz. I need to release four months of oppression.” “A’ight. I need to stop by O.G. Banks’s house after that. This nigga pulled a .25 on me last night and took my weed and
my money. One of my customers set me up. I gotta see what O.G. Banks says about it.” “It sounds like you need some help out here. Gettin’ shot at, lettin’ a nigga rob you witta peashooter ...” They both laughed. “He had a small gun,” Skee said, “but I had no gun. Shit, I had to give it up. I left my nine at home.” “You did right, cuzz. It ain’t no sense in tryna be a hero. The graveyard is full of ‘em. But I bet you won’t forget yo strap no more.” Skee lifted up his shirt, showing Ant his black 9mm HS 2000. “I bet you I won’t either.” Tiffany McDaniels lived in the Hilltop projects on 23rd and Topping. They pulled up in front of her building and got out the car. Ant knocked on her door, and a few seconds later an almond-colored skinny girl opened it up. Tiffany didn’t have the prettiest face or the best-shaped body, but her lips were impressively juicy. She had on a nude, peachy sort of gloss. “When you get out?” she asked, letting Skee and Ant inside. “Not too long ago,” Ant said. A strange odor was in the air. “What the fuck is that smell?” “I don’t smell nothin’,” she said. “You smell that, Skee?” Skee had his nose covered. “I’m tryin’ not to.” “It smell like recycled doo-doo in here,” Ant said. “Don’t be talkin’ about my house like that! My house don’t stink!” Her voice was extremely high-pitched. And when she saw Ant walk straight to her bedroom without permission, she followed behind. “Where you goin’? Don’t go in my room!”
Skee was still in the living room resting on a spinach-green beanbag, making a smush sound every time he moved. He started swaying on purpose just to hear the funny sound. There was no other furniture except for a lamp stand and a 27-inch TV resting on the stained carpet. From Skee’s observation, Tiffany needed to do a credit card scam at Rent-A-Center or call them people that offer home make-overs. Anything to spruce up the place. While his recently released friend was having a good time, Skee decided to help himself to some food in the kitchen, where there was a completely different foul smell. He grabbed a Lunchable out the refrigerator and plopped back down on the beanbag. Minutes later Ant strode out of the bedroom trailed by Tiffany. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “You gon’ do me when you get back?” she asked. “As soon as I get back,” Ant said. Tiffany turned to Skee and frowned. “Boy!” she whined. He stood up. “What?” She took the Lunchable from him. “This is my son’s summer school lunch tomorrow! Damn, Skee!” “I’ll go get you another one,” he said. “So you might as well give that back to me. What you gon’ do, give the lil’ nigga half?” She returned the food. “Are yall comin’ back?” “Yeah,” Skee lied. O.G. Banks’s house wasn’t that far away. And when Skee turned down 27th and Olive, the first thing he saw was an ‘86 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme painted in money-green candy. Skee pulled in right behind the old school.
“Whose is that?” Ant asked. “I don’t know. I never seen it before,” Skee said. They stepped out the Nissan Maxima and headed to the front door. “They should’ve put gold rims on it instead of chrome ones, whoever’s ride it is.” Ant knocked on the door rhythmically. Tereesa opened it up with her usual cigarette in hand. She looked at Skee and Ant. “Banks is gon’ like this. Come in yall.” “How you been doin’, Tereesa?” Ant asked, as she led them into the living room. Tereesa was a caramel-complexioned woman. The bags under her eyes revealed years of stress, but one could tell she used to be beautiful in her day. She stopped, spinned, and strutted off like she was modeling on a runway. “As you can see, I’m doin’ fine. Let me go get Banks.” Skee and Ant gave dap to Big Mark and the other workers in the room and sat down. “When you get out?” Big Mark asked. “About an hour ago, cuzz.” “And guess where he went first,” Skee cut in. “Where?” “Tiffany’s.” “Skinny Tiffany from Hilltop?” Big Mark’s jaw hung slack. “With the big lips?” “The one and only,” Skee confirmed, and he, Big Mark, and a few other workers laughed hysterically. “That’s okay,” Ant defended himself. “If yall was locked up as long as I was, yall would’ve went over there too. Fuck it, I ain’t ashamed.”
As the peals of laughter carried on, O.G. Banks was on his way down the steps. “Skee and Ant. It’s good to see the both of you together again.” O.G. Banks went over to his recliner. “Ant, you were released just in time.” “Just in time for what?” Ant asked. “A new venture. The beginning of a new era. It’s time to start making some financial leaps. It’s time to spread the product even further.” Skee wasn’t sure what O.G. Banks meant. “I can pay off the weed that was took. All I need is a few more pounds and I’ll just give you the difference after I slang ‘em.” “That won’t be necessary. I understand the situation you were in. Nobody can hustle with impunity. But weed is secondary now. Cocaine is the new product.” Tereesa walked in the living room right on cue with an ounce of cocaine wrapped in plastic. She set it on the ottoman in front of O.G. Banks. Although Skee was eager to make the money that cocaine would bring, he didn’t want to sell crack. He had seen too many people go to jail for selling rocks, repeatedly catching dope cases and never accumulating any real funds. They had to deal with scandalous, conniving, unpredictable dope fiends, and to get the best customer, they had to get up early and stay out late. The hours were worse than a legal gig. “I’m not tryna stand on no corner,” Skee said. “Yall won’t have to. I’m referring to powder cocaine. Weight. One-stop deliveries, easy money exchanges.” That was more in Skee’s league, so he nodded. “You two live on the Southside now, am I correct?”
“Yeah,” Skee and Ant said in unison. “I need people who are familiar with that side of the city. I‘ve acquired a few customers on the Southside, and that’s all we need to increase our gross substantially. If you two are interested, then please let me know.” “This is what I needed,” Ant grinned. “I couldn’t say no if I wanted to,” Skee said. “But how do we get around? Me and Ant don’t have whips.” “Don’t worry,” Ant hinted, “I can find a ride.” “No stolen cars, Ant. I can’t have you going back to jail if this is going to work.” O.G. Banks tossed Skee a set of keys. “That’s the keys to that Oldsmobile outside. It has a secret compartment in the trunk that the police will never find. It’s yours. Ant, if I would’ve known you were being released today, I would’ve had one waiting for you also. But you’ll be making enough money to buy a nice car of your own.” “Welcome to the team,” Big Mark said, and the other workers expressed their acceptances by giving Skee and Ant dap. O.G. Banks stood up. “Let me show yall where the secret compartment is.” Outside, O.G. Banks told Skee to push the red button on the remote. He did, and the Cutlass’s trunk popped. Inside were professionally installed Rockford Fosgate speakers and amplifiers. It didn’t look like there was a secret compartment anywhere. “Can you see where it is?” O.G. Banks asked. “In the floor,” Ant guessed. “No.” “In the speakers,” Skee guessed.
“Close.” O.G. Banks touched a button on one of the amplifiers and the casing folded upwards. A kilogram of cocaine was packed inside. “This one and that one are compartments,” he said, pointing to two amplifiers. “That big one over there actually powers the stereo system. I built this car to attract attention, which will do just the opposite. Most will go to great lengths to conceal narcotics, only to be discovered. So we will be obvious and go undetected.” “Where do we deliver the dope?” Skee asked. “Cloverleaf. I’ll let him know I have comrades on the way.”
CHAPTER 7 Skee rumbled onto an overpass in the Nissan Maxi-
ma. He was following Ant, who was cruising the Cutlass several car lengths ahead. Ant had the sound system pumping. Skee could hear it over his own music, and he felt a tinge of excitement knowing he’d be flossing the old school soon. Smiling, he said to himself, “I’ma be killin’ niggas in that. Bitches is gon’ be all on a nigga’s dick.” He turned the Maxima’s volume down when he heard his phone ringing. He searched for it, found it crammed in the pit of his seat. He picked up just in time. “Where are you?” Ariana asked excitedly. “I’m on the highway. Wussup?” “Where you goin‘?” “I‘m on my way home. I’m ‘bout to drop my momma’s car off.” “Okay. I’ma meet you there. I got a surprise for you.” “No, I’m not stayin’ there,” Skee said quickly. “I got some runs to make.” “I‘ma meet you there anyway. Don’t leave. Bye.” She hung up without giving Skee another chance to protest. When Skee and Ant arrived at Linden Hills, they didn’t see Ariana anywhere, so Skee tried to hurry up and leave. He wanted to get rid of the dope as soon as possible and Ariana would only slow him down. He ran in and gave his mother the keys to her car, came back outside and—