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The late summer winds were blowing hard in Los Angeles. The sky was clear, but the streets and alleyways were clouded with dust and debris. In South Central Los Angeles, the population elected to stay indoors, out of the blistering wind and heat. Compton Boulevard, Manchester Boulevard, the take-out chicken and taco stands, the old newsstand at the corner of Adams and Crenshaw, they were all dark and empty. The only sounds were those of the wind whistling eerily through the rotting buildings.
Elliot Stone felt the wind bite at his face. He walked, head down, along Compton, clutching the small packet of film tightly beneath his leather coat. His six-foot-one frame moved smoothly as he ducked one gust after another. In his days at the University of Southern California, the young black man had worked his way through tougher obstacles than the Santa Ana winds.
As Stone passed the Pacific Club, he heard the mellow sounds of a Miles Davis record drifting out onto the street. The music lifted his spirits. The desolation on the streets was uncommon in Watts, and it was good to know that at least a few people were drinking and listening to the good sounds.
The small white house at the corner of Fifty-first street and Compton beckoned to Stone with its clean exterior and the familiar sign above the door that read: Office of Economic Opportunity, South Central Office.
For two years Stone had worked out of this office, helping his black brothers and sisters to achieve some kind of reasonable start in the community. As a former football star and student, the job had come easily to the well-mannered, soft-spoken black youth. The white bureaucracy liked their neighborhood representatives to be like Elliot Stone. It gave them the opportunity to bring the workers uptown to the Century Plaza Hotel or the Statler Hilton for conferences.
In the old days, men like H. Rap Brown and Eldridge Cleaver frightened off the soft, white businessmen from the Valley and Beverly Hills with their hate-filled rhetoric and powerful language. The days of poverty Mau-Mau were finished. No more were blacks intimidating the white man with their African garb and Dark Continent souls. It had worked for a number of years, but now the clean-cut, well-educated men like Elliot Stone were making the climb. And it was making life easier for the nervous white men who dealt with them.
The light was on inside the small house. Stone knew that Jimmy Adams and Frank Robinson would be huddled inside the back office, sorting out files and poring over photographs. Stone used his key, opened the front door, and made his way through the main front offices to the rear of the building.
"What's happenin', gentlemen?" Stone said brightly, smiling at the two older blacks sitting at the huge wood table.
Jimmy Adams, the older of the two men, sat beneath the naked white light, his bald head gleaming with perspiration, and smiled. "You got the photos, Elliot?" he asked.
Stone pulled out the packet of pictures, twenty-four four-by-four black-and-whites, and spread them out on the table. "Yes sir, we got somethin' happenin' here."
Frank Robinson, small, stocky, and with short hair, busied himself with the mass of paper and photographs remaining on the table. When he had scooped them all up into a pile, he turned his attention back to the series of snapshots that Stone had put before them.
Elliot Stone placed each of the photos side by side, then stood back and admired the collection. Each picture showed a black man standing outside a local bar named The Black Oasis. With him was another black man, an older, better dressed man, who possessed all the markings of a pimp.
"Now," Stone began softly, his two friends peering intently at the pictures, "we got them bastards together. The one on the right, as you know, is Wilbur Chamus. We got proof connecting him with the local ring at Manual Arts High School. Right, Jimmy?"
Adams nodded. "You can dig we got his ass, Elliot!"
"Beautiful. Now, we got this other dude. This cat has been making the scene down at the Oasis for three weeks. Each of these shots was taken on a Tuesday afternoon over a period of three months."
"Pull my coat, Elliot," Frank said excitedly. "Who is he?"
Elliot Stone smiled, revealing fine white teeth. "Well, gentlemen, the dude is named Oscar Manning."
There was a long silence. Jimmy Adams whistled through his teeth, then chuckled. "Oscar Manning ..., man, that dude is somethin' else. Vegas, 'Frisco ..., right?"
"You got it, Jimmy," Elliot replied. "Oscar Manning, according to those cats who should know, is the biggest fuckin' runner of heroin this side of the goddamn Rocky Mountains! An' we got him in black and white with Chamus."
Frank Robinson moved back a step from the table. Written across his hard, black face was worry. He had begun with Stone six months before, helping him collect and gather information on the local drug scene. At that time, he had expected maybe one or two small-time high-school pushers. Oscar Manning, and even Chamus, were something a little heavier.
"You uptight, my man?" Elliot glared at Robinson. He had not disliked the man, just failed to respect him.
"Shit!" Robinson replied. "You fuckin' around in dangerous waters, Elliot. That dude's a heavy motherfucker!"
Stone chuckled. "An' so are we, Robinson."
"What we goin' to do now, Elliot?" Adams asked quickly, as a means of breaking the tension. Stone continued to glare at Robinson for a moment longer before turning his attention back to the photographs.
"Yeah," the tall black man said slowly. "We put this shit together and take it to Kenyatta. Robinson is right. This shit is too big for just us. We been workin' with Kenyatta a long time, and now we got somethin' to show him."
The silence in the room was what Stone had anticipated. The name of Kenyatta brought that to the black brothers quickly. The man was a legend, and men do not speak of legends without taking the time to consider what they are going to say. That was the way it was with Kenyatta.
* * *
That night Stone had sat alone inside his small office and thought deeply about what he was doing. His record in the office was a good one. But the situation around him was deteriorating quickly. The young people, all blacks, were being taken for a ride, a cruise on drugs from which they would not return. And the little white man who held the power had told him nothing more than any other bureaucratic slave would have.
It had taken one phone call by Stone to arrange the meeting with the man they called Kenyatta. Stone had heard of him on the streets. There was a growing number of young, idealistic blacks who had joined with the tall, bald-headed black man. They had known that the government, the law enforcement agencies, and the supposed poverty programs were not working. Kenyatta had told them that the situation was in their hands, that they were the force behind the ghetto, and that they would be the ones who could make it better for their brothers.
Kenyatta arrived at the office with two bodyguards, a black man named Wells and a short, stocky black named Burt.
Stone and Kenyatta had retreated to the back room of the small house and talked through the night. During their discussion, they had organized an extensive campaign of information gathering that they both hoped would mean the destruction of the drug trade in Watts. Using the OEO office as a front, the two men had agreed to work hand in hand in an attempt to locate the pushers, the traffickers, and the users. Once that information was completed, they would then move in and use whatever force was necessary to smash the ring.
Now, one year later, Stone was in a position to give Kenyatta the information he needed. The largest ring in Watts was sitting in front of him, captured in a series of photographs and documents collected from the street people. All told, the three black men sitting in the rear of the OEO office had collected more than a hundred pages and five hundred photographs depicting the drug trade in the area. That information a year ago would have been handed over to the local authorities, or possibly the FBI. But Stone was geared to the Kenyatta philosophy now, and he knew what had to be done.
Jimmy Adams leaned back in his chair with the small stack of photos in front of him. "We should lock these up till Kenyatta picks 'em up."
Stone nodded, then walked to the far wall and pulled open a slab of wall paneling. Behind the grained wood was a small box with a lock. Stone pulled out a key and opened the box. Adams handed him the photographs and Stone placed them inside the box along with a series of documents.
"The rest of that shit," Stone said, pointing to the massive collection of papers and photos on the table, "should be filed. What we got in this damn box is enough for Kenyatta."
Robinson began gathering the stacks of papers and putting them into the large file cabinet in the corner of the room.
"You goin' call Kenyatta?" Adams asked.
"That's been taken care of, my man. We're meeting in an hour." Stone grinned. After months of frustrations, his efforts were finally paying off. Tonight he would meet again with the man who held the real power—a rising ghetto king with the idealism, along with the force, to make a difference.
"Hey, Frank," Jimmy asked, "ain't we got ourselves a bottle of Jack Daniels in that cabinet?"
Robinson reached inside the top drawer and pulled out a fifth. There was more than half left in the bottle. "Now," Robinson said, unscrewing the cap, "that's what I call valuable records!"
The three men laughed and began passing the bottle as they talked of their accomplishments.
The large, black Ford pulled to a stop in front of the OEO building. The four young black men sat inside staring at the small white house.
The driver, a tall, lanky youth with a huge Afro and darkly tinted shades, turned to his companions. "Looks like the motherfuckers are in the back," he said.
The wind ripped at the car and shook it. The tension inside was tremendous. All four men were sweating and breathing heavily. Finally, the driver opened his door and stepped out into the hot wind.
His three companions joined him. Each man held a sawed-off shotgun at his side. Beneath their leather jackets was the familiar bulge of a shoulder holster, complete with snub-nosed .38s. On the back of the jackets a picture of a black man with a huge Afro and tinted sunglasses was painted between the arms of crossed bones. Above that, in dripping red blood lettering, was the name "The Black Maria."
"What you think, Curt," the smallest of the four asked the driver. "We make it through the back?" "No way," Curt replied. "We goin' in straight ahead and blast these cats to hell 'fore they know what hit 'em!"
Curt's small gang stood upright and tense. Each man gripped his shotgun with force. "All right ..., let's go," Curt said after a long silence.
Elliot Stone had just handed the bottle of Jack Daniels to Jimmy when he thought he heard the front door creak open. Dismissing the concern, he blamed the noise on the howling wind. But as Jimmy raised the bottle to his lips, Stone heard the footsteps outside in the main office. Before he could turn around, the door was kicked in. The four black, Afroed men of The Black Maria stood facing Stone and his partners. The shotguns were pointed directly at them.
"Now," Curt began in a voice which revealed the tension he was feeling, "you motherfuckers just stay where you are. Any of you Jacks makes a move, I'll personally see to it that your fuckin' head disappears!"
Stone was standing behind the table, the farthest one from Curt and the other three. To his right, Jimmy was sitting at the table, the bottle of whiskey still raised to his mouth. Only now, the brown liquid was pouring out of the bottle and onto his shirt and trousers. To his left, Frank was leaning against the file cabinet. His legs appeared as though they would buckle at any time. At that moment, Stone knew there was no chance.
"We hear you dudes been collecting a little info on some cat's activities hereabouts. That the straight?" Curt glared first at Frank, then at Jimmy, and finally turned his baleful stare upon Stone.
"Hey, dude," Curt said coldly, "I ain't fuckin' 'round, man. You dig where I'm comin' from?"
"Yeah," Stone managed to say, "but I don't know what kind of jive you handin' down, brother."
Suddenly, Jimmy spoke up. His voice was tinged with his fear. "Please, man. We got some shit ... right here...."
Curt grinned, his lips spreading across crooked, stained teeth. "Now, this little dude got some smarts, baby."
Stone watched as Jimmy picked up the file envelopes on the table, then walked across the room and pulled the one that Frank had just put away. He turned and handed the folders to Curt.
"Any more shit like this?" Curt asked as he quickly glanced at the materials.
"No, man," Jimmy claimed, "this is all the shit. I mean that."
Curt laughed, then nodded to the smallest of the gang. He in turn pulled out a can of black spray paint, then walked to the far wall and wrote the name of the gang in large, sprawling letters.
Stone watched, and the name "Black Maria" rang a bell. It had been a gang operating out of the Manual Arts High School. A bunch of young toughs who had done nothing worse with their activities than ripping off a few cars and dealing in reds and grass. As far as Stone had seen, they were never into anything as heavy as killing.
"You dudes look a little old ...," Stone said after the small black man had finished his lettering.
"Old for what, motherfucker?" Curt retorted sharply.
"The Marias ..., they're high-school kids, you dig?"
Curt laughed sardonically. "Don't believe nothin' you ever hear or see, 'cause you'll live a lot longer. I guess for you, man, the time is too short anyway. Too fuckin' bad you never had a chance to practice my advice...."
Stone watched in horror as Curt raised his gun and pointed the barrel directly at Stone's stomach. The former football star felt himself tighten involuntarily, the same way he had done on the gridiron when he saw a two-hundred-and-sixty-pound giant ready to take off his head.
The room was filled with a deadening silence. The four men with guns stood with their weapons pointing directly at the three unarmed men. All time, all movement seemed suspended. Even the wind, which had been howling only moments before, calmed into a gentle, stilling breeze.
The four shotguns fired at the same time, as though the moment of the killing had been rehearsed. Jimmy was hit directly in the face. Blood spurted from his eyes as the sockets were ruptured by the splattering of pellets from the shell. The rest of his face, except for his mouth, was blown away in an orgy of blood and skin. Jimmy's mouth was formed into a grotesque, horrified grimace.
Frank was belted from the side and into the head. Two shotguns had been trained on him, and each got him squarely. Where his left temple and ear had once been there now existed only a gaping hole, and the oozing brain matter that quickly moved out of his dying body and onto the floor. He had been plastered against the filing cabinets, and his body remained in a prone position.
Curt fired at Elliot, aiming for the man's crotch. But the pellets hit him in the stomach and punched a series of holes into his gut. The blood was oozing out quickly, staining Elliot's white shirt. The force of the blast had thrown him back against the rear door, and Stone fell to a heap on the floor.
The room was filled with the blue-gray smoke of the explosions. The crumpled bodies were barely visible to Curt. "Okay ..., set it," Curt ordered, his eyes burning from the dense sulphur fumes.
The two men who had fired at Frank quickly grabbed some papers and newspapers and began lighting them. They threw the wadded-up fireballs across the room and into other stacks of paper. Within a moment, the room was crowded with small fires that would soon burst into huge, smoldering flames.
On their way through the house to the front door, the four members of the Black Maria set fire to anything that would ignite easily—chairs, paper, and desks. By the time they reached the door, the entire house behind them was quickly being engulfed in flames.
Excerpted from KENYATTA'S LAST HIT by DONALD GOINES. Copyright © 1975 Donald Goines. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Posted January 7, 2011
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