Read an Excerpt
"Damn, Nina, how much of that shit did you put in his drink?"
"Same amount as usual. Why?"
" 'Cause his ass looks dead."
Nina glanced at the middle-aged white man lying across the bed. He was in a deep sleep from the mickey she'd slipped him less than thirty minutes ago. "Kennedy, ain't nothing wrong with that man. He looks like that 'cause he drank everything the bar had to offer! Just hurry and finish wiping everything down. We can't afford to get sloppy now."
"I'm through wiping. You hurry up and crack that safe so we can get that shit and be out."
Nina tried but couldn't crack the code to the hotel-room safe.
Kennedy was becoming impatient. "Look, Nina, fuck whatever is in that safe. We got his Rolex and four thousand cash. We need to go ship this shit and catch our flight!"
"Ken, I've always told you patience is a virtue," Nina said calmly, never taking her eyes from the safe.
"Haven't you noticed I'm not big on virtues?"
"Besides, I know this old bastard got way more paper in this safe. You should have seen how much he was spending on chips about ten Gs a table. His bar tab was a G and he paid everything in cash."
Nina continued to give her full attention to the safe. She looked like a high-fashion runway model, not a hustler and part-time scam artist. All five feet ten inches of her was slim but curvy in the right places. Her 36D cups were perfect for the knee-length red Valentino tube dress that she was wearing. Her legs were especially beautiful in the Manolo Blahnik stilettos. The rich white Vegas gamblers couldn't keep their eyes off her smooth chocolate skin and her shoulder-length jet-black hair.
Once she had worked her way into their rooms, Nina would slip them a mickey while her cousin robbed the gamblers blind.
Kennedy was the mastermind behind the scheme. At twenty-two, she was a genius at crime. If it had been a major in college, she would have graduated summa cum laude.
She'd come up with this particular scheme after the ATF and DEA had raided them. The only thing that had kept Kennedy and Nina from going to state or federal prison was that thirty minutes before the raid, they had been robbed. Nina's boys' father and his brother had hit them for four kilos and all of their firearms. After everything was over, Kennedy considered the robbery to have been a blessing.
Kennedy looked on, aggravated, as Nina continued to try to crack the safe's code.
Nina exhaled. "There, I did it. Told you, ma, just be easy." As she pulled the safe's door open she could not believe what she was seeing. She covered her mouth with a gloved hand to keep from screaming.
Kennedy slid off the bar stool and walked toward her cousin to see what the excitement was about. "Nina, what is it?"
"Yo, it must be fifty Gs in here! And, Ken, look at this black bag. It looks like diamonds, ma."
"Nigga, let me see! Damn, it's like thirty loose stones in here. This nigga must be a criminal himself. Come on, bag all this up. Let's be out."
Kennedy drove back to their hotel on the outskirts of Las Vegas. She was tired and weary; they had checked in four days earlier. That meant four days of not much sleep and no play.
The night before, she had worked three different casino hotels, getting four different men for their loot. She had cleared forty-five thousand dollars in cash and jewelry. She'd worn a black Gucci minidress. Now she was wearing a white tee and cut-up jean shorts with a crispy white pair of uptowns to replace the Jimmy Choo stilettos. Her beautiful makeup job was gone. Her long reddish-brown hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail. Her lips were covered only by a hint of MAC Lip Glass.
Kennedy had to take No-Doz to stay awake while driving. Nina had already fallen into a deep sleep. Kennedy thought about playing a prank to get her up but decided to let her cousin sleep for the remaining thirty minutes of the ride. Kennedy thought, Nina did a wonderful job tonight. She was determined to get that safe open.
After what felt like an eternal thirty minutes, they arrived at the hotel.
"Yo, Nina, get up. We're here. Come on, it's six-fifteen already."
Without opening her eyes, Nina groggily responded, "Just let me sleep twenty more minutes."
"No. Get up! We have to pack all this shit up, ship it, and get to the airport by nine forty-five. In case you forgot, our plane leaves at ten-fifty."
Nina rose up from the reclined seat with an attitude and fresh drool on her face.
"All right, all right, damn! You get on my nerves. Everybody ain't like you! I can't stay up for forty-eight hours with no sleep."
"Nina, I don't want to hear that shit. You can sleep as long as you want when we get home."
"Stop bugging, chick, I'm up."
Inside the room, they got right to the job at hand. Kennedy lined souvenir vases with cash and jewelry. Nina carefully wrapped each one in tissue paper and plastic bubble before placing them in the box.
After they finished, Kennedy stood up and scanned the room to make sure nothing had been left behind. "Is that everything, Nina?"
"Yeah, ma, that's everything."
"All right, then, we only have forty-five minutes to get ready. I'll go ahead and get in the shower! I already have my clothes out."
They finished dressing, packed the rented Suburban, and headed for UPS. Kennedy was glad to see the same black man who had been there each day, working the counter.
He had openly flirted with her, even though he was old enough to be her grandfather. He had even given her a discount on shipping. He began to smile now, revealing a gold crown, at the sight of Kennedy in a pair of tight Chloé jeans, a black halter top, and spike sandals. Her tanned red skin and her beautiful smile entranced him. With his husky voice, he greeted her. "Hey, young lady, I see you came back to see me."
Showing her pearly whites, she responded, "And how are you this morning, sir?"
"I'm a lot better now that I've seen your pretty face. Now tell me, did you come back to take me up on my offer of marriage?" The greasy old man and his gold crown literally made Kennedy sick. But she played along with him, licking her lips and smiling as she answered. "Not this time, baby, but I will let you know next week."
"Girl, you can have all my money."
Kennedy thought to herself, I'd rather be broke.
She was tired of playing, so she got to the point. "I have to catch a flight to Louisiana, and I need to overnight these to my sisters in New York. I need to insure both boxes for ten thousand dollars apiece."
"Damn, girl, what you got in the boxes, gold? You wanted the same amount on all those other boxes."
"Only thing in those boxes is antique vases. Only reason I insure them for so much is because I know they won't get messed up or stolen. If anything happens to them, someone will lose their job when United Parcel Service has to kick out ten Gs or more."
"Well, look here, baby girl, just pay for the insurance. I won't charge you for the shipping and handling."
"Okay, that's what's up."
She paid him and turned toward the door. As she walked away his eyes were fixed on her ass. He thought to himself, I'm going to have some of that sweet young thing.
When Kennedy approached the truck she saw Nina bending down in the seat. As she looked closer, she saw three white lines on Nina's compact mirror and a rolled-up fifty-dollar bill up her nose. Her nostrils vacuumed the powder trails clean. Kennedy yanked the door open, jumped in.
"What the fuck are you doing?" she barked at Nina.
"Come on, Ken-Ken, with that self-righteous shit "
Kennedy cut her off. "No, Nina! I don't want to hear that shit. One, how can you even ride around with that shit knowing what we are out here doing? Come on, B, how fucking stupid is jeopardizing everything we came out here for over some fucking blow? Damn, bitch, are you twenty-nine or nineteen?"
Nina couldn't believe how her baby cousin had just blown up at her. "Kennedy, it's not that serious. I always have to toot a little powder before I get on the plane. You know I get nervous about flying."
"That's no excuse. You can get a doctor to prescribe you something for that. How long you been back on that shit? I thought you was clean."
Tears welled up in Nina's eyes as she thought back to a time when crack and heroin had ruled her every move. At the time, Kennedy was only eighteen, but she had helped Nina overcome her addiction after their entire family had given up on her. At twenty-two, she'd been strung-out with two kids. After nearly killing herself and her younger son, she checked into a twenty-eight-day program at a clinic.
No one had expected it to work; she had been there and done that so many times before. While Nina was away for that particular stretch of sobriety, Kennedy had gotten tired of hearing family members talking about Nina like she was some stranger in the street. They were the same people who had kept their hands open for a handout when Nina's money was long.
Furthermore, she was just sick of seeing her older cousin, whom she admired so much, fading away. All of her life she had looked up to Nina: she liked the way Nina got her own paper. While most girls were begging boys for sneaker, doobie, and nail money, Nina was getting her hustle on. Kennedy had always thought that her cousin was the flyest chick in Harlem. Plus, Nina's beautiful dark skin enhanced her beauty.
The heroin addict that Nina had turned into was someone whom Kennedy did not know. At the time, her once-meticulous cousin was wearing the same clothes for days on end. Her smooth chocolate skin had become blotchy and dry. Her long, thick hair became simply long and stringy.
At the end of the twenty-eight days, Kennedy had been there to pick her up. She moved into Nina's house, cooked good meals for her, and took care of her sons. A year later, Nina was back on her feet and clean. She was even more beautiful and healthier than she'd been before the drugs.
She could not deny that Kennedy was one of the few people who loved her unconditionally. Now, as she sat in the Suburban, she knew her cousin was only barking on her out of true love. It had been three years since Nina had closed the book on that chapter of her life.
Nina snapped back to reality. "Ken-Ken, I swear I only toot every now and then. Only when I'm completely stressed or I'm about to fly. And I promise you I'm not fucking with that heroin."
"Look, Nina, I love you no matter what, but I never want to see you go through that shit again. I'm not eighteen anymore. I don't have the energy to go through that shit with you again. And what about your kids? Niko and Taylor are old enough to know now. And Madeline is only two. She needs you to be there for her."
"Kennedy, I promise I'll never go back to that again."
"Aight, ma, whatever you say. But check this: whatever you got left, you need to toss it. I be damned if I get knocked for some petty blow shit." Copyright ©2006 by Danielle Santiago