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All of the drama started right here, on Queens Boulevard, in broad daylight. The three hoods—Brice, Cooksie, and Ringo—were about to "bust a move," as they called it. However, to the rest of the world, this was but a "robbery in progress." All last week Brice was saying, "We gonna bust this move! We gonna bust this move!" And he had been promoting the escapade almost every hour since then, repeating himself like a scratched CD. So now here they were, the three of them, about to play God with the lives of others—and with their own lives.
When Brice spoke on this five days earlier, he was charged like a hot wire, doing his damnedest to stop Ringo from the low-budget rap demo he had scheduled for the same day. Not that he was hating on Ringo's aspirations, but Brice needed another body to execute this event that he had planned so many times in his dreams.
"Yo—fuck that rap shit, dawg. We gonna bust this move over on the boulevard. I'm tellin' you . . . one score like this, and you'll have way more money in one day than some record deal can get you. Word."
"Not if I go platinum."
Brice laughed at the idea.
"Nigga, you must be smokin' crack if you think you can all of a sudden do a demo, get a record deal, and sell a million records. Don't you know the odds? Huh? A nigga wanna be a basketball player or a rap star, but the real deal is that there's a billion otha muh fuckas who want the same thing. It's a fuckin' pot luck game, dawg."
"What if I'm one in a billion?"
"Well, if you are, then let's do this shit, so I can get some money and invest in you. 'Cause without the dough, your ass ain't even goin' ghetto gold!"
Brice was cracking up. Cooksie (and eventually Ringo) couldn't help but join in until they all created a chorus of laughter. When Ringo calmed down some, he said, "I ain't never shot nobody before, Brice. That's not even in my flow."
Cooksie added, "We ain't gonna shoot nobody, right Brice? I mean, you telling us this check cashing joint is sweet, and the guns are just for show . . . right?" Even Cooksie needed some assurance, evidenced by his uncertain tone of voice.
"No doubt," Brice told both friends as he passed around a forty-ounce beer. Ringo sat adjacent to Brice and Cooksie as the three checked out a cheesy drawing—the layout of the Just Right Check Exchange—on a sheet of paper between them.
"And besides, the guns won't even be loaded," he went on to say.
"Why should they be? Them people will be so scared shitless they'll hand the money over just like we say." All three homeboys, none of them older than eighteen, agreed to execute the plan on the following Thursday.
"Okay, check it," warned Brice. "The armored car should be there by twelve thirty. My girl says that it gets real slow by one o'clock, when the lunch crowd goes back to work. So, that's when we move."
"When the lunch crowd gets back?" asked Cooksie.
"No, stupid. At one o'clock, when it gets slow." Brice slapped Cooksie upside the back of his head.
ONE WEEK EARLIER AT SUMIIA'S
Sumiia Johnson was a nineteen-year-old that Brice claimed possession of. She started out as an acquaintance—a friend of a friend, really. But as of a month earlier, Brice began to pour on the charm, at precisely the time he found out that she worked as a cashier at the Just Right Check Exchange.
"You gotta watch this guy called Simmons," Sumiia told Brice, the morning after their marathon of uninhibited sex. "That guy swears he's John Wayne or somebody. He even spins his gun around on his finger like that horse on the Cartoon Network."
"You mean Quickdraw McGraw?"
"Don't worry, I gotcha. The dark-skinneded one with the eyes like they about to shoot out of his face." Brice had spent a few days checking things already and pretty much knew the who's and what's relating to the check cashing franchise.
"And he probably works out two times a day, huh?" Brice guessed.
"Maybe three," said Sumiia in a tone of warning. "Or so he says."
"Yeah, yeah. But all that muscle ain't gonna stop this here." Brice reached down by the side of the sofa. He showed her a machine pistol—or the "baby whop," as Brice called it.
"If he gets anywhere within two hundred yards o' this . . ." Brice made a whoo-ee expression.
Brice covered Sumiia's mouth with his hand.
"Shhh, before you wake your grandma."
She still managed to pry Brice's hand away. "I thought you said you'd keep that in the car?"
"Right. I know what I said, boo. But your grandma don't live in no goddamned gated community. A nigga gotta protect what's his."
"Oh? And what do you consider yours?" asked Sumiia.
"You ain't gonna start that black feminist mess again, are you?"
"What's that? A feminist?"
"Just something my brother tells me about in his prison letters. He says y'all mess things up real bad."
Sumiia sucked her teeth.
"What ever, nigger. I don't see no ring on my—"
"Whatchu call me?"
"Nigger?" she repeated while crossing her arms over her bare breasts. Sumiia barely finished her sentence before Brice slapped her face. Emotions welled up in her eyes and throat while the tears flowed spontaneously. Eventually, Brice felt it was safe to remove his hand. The last thing he needed was her grandma all up in his business.
"But last night you told me to call you—"
"That was my dick talking, stupid. And I didn't say nigger, I said nigga. There's a difference, dummy."
Sumiia held her cheek and began to sob, however softly, however hopelessly. This wasn't the worst she'd been through, messin' with one hood or another from around the way. And regardless of all the craziness here, the two were still intimately positioned, with Brice hovering over her, with both their naked bodies still mashing against one another there on her grandma's couch.
"Now, to answer your question," Brice went on to say, "ever since I've been sticking this power drill up in your ice cream, I considered you mine." Only now did Brice realize that he had the baby whop in his hand and that Sumiia was cutting her eyes at the threat of it. Afraid, but steaming.
"Now." Brice slid the nose of the weapon along her tear-stained cheeks, along the slopes of her breasts, and down between her legs. "Now. Whose pussy is this?" He asked the question while underneath the sheets his "power tool" muscled its way back into . . . her . . . ice . . . cream. Umphhh. Brice grunted his relief amid her sighs and sobs. And Sumiia more or less agreed with this ruffian's activities (or she was merely overcome by his imposing will), even grabbing ahold of him while he fucked her mind and body. When the sex was over Brice wondered if Sumiia would change her mind and maybe blow the whole plan. After all, he needed her. Had he finally gone overboard?
"Listen, baby, all I'm doin' is lookin' out. You never know, feel me? And as far as you 'n' me go, baby, I've made my decision. As soon as this score's over I'mma lace you with a fat diamond ring." Sumiia looked at Brice with some doubt—one of those expressions that spoke a thousand words.
"Okay, let's do it like this. Remember I told you the day before last, how I ain't going down on no girl unless she was sho' nuff gonna be mine?"
"Yeah. And it's been a one-way deal ever since."
"So would you . . . would you believe me if . . ."
Brice kissed his way down Sumiia's neck, her collarbone, and around her nipples, working his way down below the navel.
". . . I showed you . . . instead of just . . . words?" Sumiia giggled as Brice disappeared under the sheet.
"Stop . . . you know I'm—unhh—messy, oooh . . . you're not—oh God," she squealed. "You're—not—serious." She could no longer speak, too caught up in the rapture. Her eyes eventually squeezed shut, feeling that this was so right, that this was heaven. Brice merely wanted Sumiia to keep her mouth shut and to go with the flow. So if eating her pussy real good was all he had to do, then so be it. As long as she followed instructions so he and his boys could get paid.
Sumiia shuddered something like six times before Brice was done. He went to wipe the nasty musk from his mouth and returned to see her gleaming at him with those sultry eyes. She reached out for him and fondled his limp penis.
"Come on, girl. We had enough."
"But don't you want me to—"
"No, no baby," said Bryce, easing her face away from his shriveled up dick. "I just wanna hold you," he lied. "Don't worry, you ain't neva gotta lift anotha finger while I'm around. I'm 'bout to move you and your grandma up out the hood."
From then on, the two snuggled on the couch,
"Now, who's your man?" he asked, no weapon this time.
"You are, boo."
"I won't get any more of that feminist shit?"
"Are you kiddin'? The way you did the damn thing down there?" Sumiia was half kidding. She sighed and continued to say, "Shit, boo. I'd be a fool to let you go. I belong to you, from my toenails to my nose hairs."
"Good. Now tell me more about how they move that dough at your job. . . ."
The sky brokered in a pleasant, sunny day—the kind of day that made life seem perfect, as if nothing could go wrong.
"Why we gotta do this in broad daylight, Brice? There's more exposure out here than a two-page spread in The Source."
"It's like I say, Ringo. Nobody would expect anything like this in the daytime. Remember the element of surprise they talked about in that book To Live and Die in Harlem—"
Cooksie jumped in and said, "That nigga Push was a bad mothafucka."
Ringo looked back over the car seat at Cooksie, scowling at him.
"Man, you know you didn't read that shit."
"That nigga high-speed reads," said Brice.
Ringo cackled out loud, more to relieve the anxiety than anything else.
Cooksie retorted, twisting his lips.
"I'm just sayin' that Push a bad boy."
"Are we all done with the Queens Boulevard book review? We got a fuckin' move to make here. Anyway, my whole point is, it's so busy out here, everybody doin' their own thing . . . it's perfect. We'll get lost in all this mess once the shit hits the fan." Brice turned a more concentrated look toward Ringo.
"Don't tell me you're gettin' cold feet at the last minute."
"Please, dawg. I'm just coverin' my ass. If I don't, nobody will."
"True that," answered Brice with a poker face.
"Look. It's the truck," said Cooksie. "Right on time, just like your girl said."
"That's my girl," Brice growled to himself. Then to the others he said, "now, as soon as they leave, as soon as big eyes comes back from droppin' the checks off at the bank, we makeour move. Pull around the corner, Cooksie." Brice was unable to take his eyes off of the armored truck that was now double-parked in front of the various storefronts.
MEANWHILE: FARTHER DOWN QUEENS BOULEVARD
It seemed like forever that Jesse Champagne had been working to get to this point. Finally she was about to have her record deal: a sizable bud get, a sizable advance, the guarantee of at least two music videos, and a nationwide promotional tour. It was all so right. And all she had to do was sign on the dotted line. Done deal.
"You okay, Jesse?" Kianna put her hand to her best friend's shoulder.
"I'm good. I just . . . do you all mind if I take a break? Just five minutes is all I need."
The emotions were too much for her to bear. The lawyers, her agent, the various executives from the record company—all of them were present. But more important, Aunt Sara's sage advice meant more than all of this . . .
Always take a time-out before you make a serious decision, her aunt had told her since she was a child. Follow your heart and your instincts but never feel rushed or pressured into anything.
And so Jesse, now a nineteen-year-old woman with plenty of good fortune to go with her looks and talent, left the record company's conference room, headed for the elevators. Kianna was on her tail.
"What's the matter, Jesse? I'm right here."
"Kianna, I can't explain. It's not something I can't discuss with you. You know you're my girl 'n' all. But this is just . . . it's something personal; a private thing. Like . . . I gotta do this alone. Some quiet time for myself, that's all."
"Well okay. I . . . you sure you're okay? You don't need me?"
"I'll be fine," said Jesse, already in the elevator car. "Trust me. Just a little fresh air is all I need. It's so stuffy in there. So many eyes on me, ya know?" The elevator doors closed as Jesse promised to return shortly.
Today was Jesse's day. She was ripe and radiant with her flawless bronze complexion and long tresses of golden brown hair spiraling wildly and voluminously, as if all that hair had sprouted from her head into a sculpted bush. Her eyes were wide and alluring. Her nose had a glistening diamond stud on the right side, and her lips were juicy looking, like she had some delicious fruit in front of those kiss-me cheeks and that contoured jawline. And even though Jesse was in deep thought—even with that slinky, shapely bod clothed in a tailored, career-woman's jacket and matching white skirt, she had a certain youthful pizzazz.
Jesse was a walking, talking billboard; it was all in her attitude and her presence. And even out here on busy, sunny Queens Boulevard, it all added up to the obvious: She was a superstar.
But little did Jesse know that her little time-out from that stuffy conference room would not only disrupt her opportunity for fame and fortune, but would also change her life.
For a stickup that was supposed to be so "sweet," Brice and his tagalongs were certainly armed to the hilt. Ringo was carrying what Brice called the Enforcer. It was actually a .45-caliber automatic pistol, similar to what a police officer might keep as a sidearm, except that it had grooves in the grip that molded to Ringo's hand and fingers real nicely. Cooksie, on the other hand, was dressed like a cowboy. He had two pistols, both of which were easily purchased at a Nashville, Tennessee, gun show. At the time he was shopping at the show, Cooksie didn't have enough for two pieces of major hardware, so he purchased one—the Desert Eagle—and the less expensive .45, which the vendor said was a favorite of the GIs from WWII to Vietnam.
Naturally, Brice had the baby wop for point-blank shooting and "wettin' shit up." All of the weapons were a welcome element of security for the time being, whether wedged in a holster under Cooksie's arms, or stuck in the waist of Ringo's jeans, or on a leather strap, like the Uzi hanging down at Brice's side. Not to mention that these three jobless, hopeless fucks also had the nerve to have on Windbreakers that were blinding and bright so that (Brice said) they'd blend in with the colors and reflections of this brilliant summer's day. And for disguises, if things weren't already stupid and strange, Brice passed out masquerade masks—something that the rich folks wore at costume balls, with feathers and all.
"Here, Ringo." Brice passed his partner a full magazine of ammunition. "Just slap that in the handle there."
"Man—you betta stop. I thought we said—"
"Fuck what we said. The plans changed. Didn't you tell 'em, Cooksie?"
"Tell me what?" asked Ringo, swinging his head to and fro.
Cooksie avoided eye contact.
"There he is," said Brice, ignoring Ringo as if he were some shopper who'd been turned down for a refund. There was no time to think . . . only time to move. Simmons, the carrier/security guard they referred to as "Big Eyes" was returning from a check-drop at the bank down the block. At the same time, Brice, Ringo, and Cooksie went to take their positions at varying intervals—ten or so feet apart—along the sidewalk that led to the entrance of the Just Right Check Exchange. Brice was closest to the storefront, then Cooksie and Ringo. Ringo was supposed to feed a quarter into a meter for a car that wasn't his. But now that he thought about it, he couldn't even find that quarter.
"Yo, chief, you happen to have change for a dollar?" Ringo didn't have to work hard at pretending, since Big Eyes didn't answer; he just wagged his head and kept it moving. Once he passed, Ringo called out, "Big Eyes!"
"What the fuck you say?" He finally turned his attention to Ringo.
"You heard me," said Ringo. "All I did was ask you for a quarter."
"Forget your own godamned quarter. And if I was you, I'd watch my mouth."
Ringo was concerned that the man was so close, using his pointer finger to get his message across. But he also remembered what Brice said: "He's on the job, so don't worry. He can't touch you unless you threaten him—he'll lose his gun permit . . . and his job."
"Whateva," said Ringo, still bracing himself before the larger man. Big Eyes simply looked Ringo up and down, laughed, and spun away.
Brice was ten or so feet closer to the exchange, digging into a trash can for empty cans and bottles. Already, he had grabbed six or seven of them, containers that would supposedly earn him some tax-free money, a far cry from the hundred grand waiting a few storefronts away. Just as Big Eyes was passing Brice-the-pauper, a short Asian woman pushed her way through the Tin-Pan Chinese restaurant's front door, broom in hand.
"You go from hay-a," she demanded, raising the broom, ready to swat Brice like a fly. "You no make a mess!"
Brice wanted to backslap this woman with her bad timing; she was interfering with his hundred-grand stickup. But he maintained his demeanor, knowing how close he was from paydirt. In the long run, he'd laugh about this woman while counting his money.
Half ignoring the woman, Brice gave her a full view of the back of his bright yellow Windbreaker while he continued to peek through the garbage. At the same time he mumbled under his breath, something about his right to hunt for bottles. Big Eyes was approaching Cooksie's area now, while Cooksie leafed through a number of dollar bills, still picking others up from the ground where he coincidentally dropped them at the entrance to Just Right. From his kneeling position he could see big-eyed Simmons coming, still with a little disgust across his face. Meanwhile, none of the three armed robbers were sure whether Simmons would bend down to assist Cooksie, or if he'd step over and around him. It was a coin-toss conclusion that they'd have to be prepared for.
"Dag, you just gonna step by me like I don't exist?"
In his cold tone, Simmons said, "Hurry and pick that up, man. I need this doorway clear."
"I'mma make sure I report y'all to the Better Business Institute," said Cooksie, knowing he had fucked up the name.
Simmons rolled his big eyes to the sky and proceeded to unhook the keys from a belt loop of his trousers. Eventually he used the keys to unlock the front door instead of waiting to be buzzed in.
" 'Scuse me, y'all got change up in there?" It was Ringo now who had hurried behind Simmons.
"See the lady at the—" Simmons' reply was interrupted by the hard object poking his side. He had made the mistake of taking his eyes off of Cooksie, and now there were three guns pointing at him, and all of the weapons were hidden from the busy street.
The masquerade masks were being worn by now, and it made things obvious enough for Simmons to curse, finally drawing his own conclusions about the oddities—the three strangers: at the meter, the garbage can, and on bended knee at the front entrance. But of course, all of those thoughts were things to figure out before—before it was too late, before the guns, and before Simmons could kick himself in the ass for the stupid spell. Yes, that was all before. But this was now.
"Move inside, chief. And don't think about playin' hero either, 'cause it's your blood that'll be on the sidewalk. You can bet on that shit." Once inside the establishment, the three recognized their first small problem. There was a woman in the corner of the lobby, and she was holding an infant as she negotiated her cable bill on the pay phone. Brice didn't have to think twice. Casually, he stepped over by the woman.
"Sorry, lady. Time's up."
And he pressed the pay phone's weathered tongue, terminating the call.
"Now go have a seat and keep quiet. Ain't nobody gonna hurt you." Brice was sure the woman noticed the gun since she pulled her baby closer and obeyed without so much as a whimper. All the while, Brice wondered if the proprietor or the cashiers had figured this out yet. He also wondered how much time they had as he sort of assisted the trembling woman over to a metal trash can, on top of which she sat her wide ass. She nervously stroked and rocked her infant, less like a child and more like a good luck charm.
Across the lobby, Cooksie had one of his pistols tight against the big-eyed courier's spine, forcing him to open a second door to the far end of the three cashiers' windows. Ringo saw to the other two customers in the lobby—bodies that blocked most of the activity from the cashier's view. There was an elderly woman who was busy entering a code into an electronic keypad, and a man in a blazer and tie, apparently cashing a check. None of the customers was aware of the robbery in progress, and that was just fine. Brice went to join Cooksie now, and he thought of pistol-whipping Big Eyes upside the head to prevent any heroism. But instead, he figured he'd save the employee until he needed to threaten violence—in case the others didn't do as they were told. By any means necessary, they were gonna leave this place with more money than they'd ever seen in their lives. But so far so good. For now, everything was working marvelously. The Just Right Check Exchange was under siege.
"Ladies, as soon as possible, I need you to back away from them windows and put your hands where I can see them," said Brice. "Where's the boss? Where's Lydia?" While Brice was working off of his inside information, Cooksie was also following the plan in step-by-step detail, and at the same time pat-searching Simmons for weapons. He found two of them: a 357 Magnum in a holster under his left arm, and a palm-sized 9 mm strapped to his ankle. Cooksie wouldn't dare bend down for the second gun, making himself vulnerable. Somebody already made that mistake once today.
"Take that off," Cooksie ordered, prodding Big Eyes with some war veteran's .45 caliber. "Ah-ah-ahh, just drop the gun on the floor . . . good. Now call Lydia in here. Call her now!" he growled.
All of a sudden—with a gun in his hand—Cooksie was a beast.
"Miss Lydia! Miss Lydia!" There was no answer. And everyone in the room seemed confused for a moment.
"Yo, B!" Cooksie shouted, keeping with the pact they made earlier—no names during the holdup. First initials only.
Ringo had things under control out in the front lobby while Brice and Cooksie tried to make sense of the missing proprietress.
"Wassup?" asked Brice.
"Ain't no Lydia comin' out. She might not be here."
Brice did some quick thinking before finally looking toward Sumiia.
"You. Go open the office door. Move it." And to the other cashier he said, "You . . . lay down on the floor." The blonde seemed to have a problem with that—maybe the floor was too dirty.
"Now!" Brice insisted.
As she was told, Sumiia went to the office door and tried the handle.
"It's locked," she announced, but she said it with an underlying warning that only Brice could sense.
"Shit." Brice grunted.
And out of nowhere, the shit he talked about avoiding began to hit the fan. The office door swung open and an extremely thin white woman marched into view with a gun in hand. Her presence was shocking, like she'd just come from a Lucky Charms convention. Her black hair was greased back and she was dressed like a one-woman circus or freak show. If not the convention, then perhaps she just enjoyed dressing like a leprechaun in her full-length, lime-green neon jacket (a cape, really) that she wore with the flaps open, exposing her rail-thin frame in neon-pink slacks and some paisley printed blouse. Completing the woman's loud presence were pumps that matched her cape, pink nail polish to match her pants, and lipstick, too. And—Jesus—the lipstick not only dressed her lips, but the outer edges of her ears as well.
Before Brice could make sense of this, before he could apply too much thought to what low-budget porno flick she must've popped out of, there was his salvation to consider. He dived to the floor, knocking over a table with cash and various mechanical devices, in hopes of dodging this woman's counterattack. Bullets riddled the table, and there were screams from the cashiers, as well as from the woman out in the lobby.
"You got the right one, fucker!" Lydia yelled. By now, Brice figured Lydia to be his worst enemy. And when there was breathing room between her flying bullets, he returned .re. From where he was lying on the floor, he could see the neon-green shoes. He aligned the Uzi and let it rip with a rapid-fire blast that sounded something like amplified popping corn.
The woman's squeal filled the room as she collapsed. Gun smoke also stained the air while the blast already had a number of ears ringing. When Brice got up to inspect, he not only found the leprechaun bludgeoned on the floor yet still moving, but he also found Sumiia on the floor. Her eyes were already spilling tears, begging for help as her hands grabbed her belly.
Cooksie had backed against the wall, papered with bounced checks and money order blacklists, pointing both guns at Simmons.
Finally, Ringo appeared through the doorway.
"Brice! Look out!" he shouted.
Brice had no time to curse Ringo for using his real name, nor did he have time to respond. The woman had her gun in hand, already pointed, discharging two rounds.
Brice went spinning backward, hit by at least one of the bullets. Ringo's reflex was instant. He stepped up to Lydia the freak and fired all ten rounds, plus the one in the chamber. He was still pulling the trigger, no ammunition left, long after the woman was finished.
Cooksie uttered a mad holler when he saw that Brice had been hit and that Ringo was frozen with fear. His response to the mishap was to cut down Simmons. He turned into a madman, and for no reason but rage, he pumped two slugs into the large man's back. Another into his skull. Cooksie then hopped over the fallen body to help Brice.
"The freak bitch shot me, Cooks."
Cooksie made a brief examination and saw that Brice was merely grazed about the chest. He checked for other wounds and found none.
"Yo, man. You gonna be all right—word." He helped Brice to his feet. "We gotta get outta here, yo. Ringo, shake it off." Again, Cooksie with the disregard for name calling.
"Shit," Brice muttered when he saw through one of the cashier's windows. The customers had made a mad rush out of the front entrance.
"Brice . . . help me . . ."
"Yo, we gotta jet. Fuck that money," said Ringo, his eyes searching back and forth, and his body rattling like a tall glass of ice.
"Grab the mothafuckin money!" protested Brice with his weapon nearly pointed at Ringo. He then crouched down to Sumiia, who was crying.
"Damn, baby," was all Brice could come up with as he calculated things.
"My stomach, Brice. It hurts."
Her hands were messy with blood. There were two others dead. She had been shot. And no doubt, the customers were outside on the sidewalk now, tellin' the whole world about the robbery. This wasn't exactly the walk in the park he had anticipated.
Shit . . .
"It's gonna be all right, baby. Close your eyes and squeeze real tight."
"O-kay . . . ," she choked.
Brice looked back over his shoulder. His boys were handling business. The second cashier was nearby; surely she'd seen and heard everything from her fetal position on the floor.
The leprechaun's 9mm was close by and Brice crawled some to pick it up. He came back to Sumiia, bent down to kiss her forehead and tear-stained cheeks.
"You're gonna live forever, baby. Just a little longer—help will be here." Brice had one more look around before he brought the palm-sized gun to Sumiia's temple at close range. He then pulled the trigger, and blood spit out through the opposite side of her head.
As if Sumiia could still hear him, Brice said, "It's the best thing, baby. Trust me." Cooksie and Ringo jumped at the sound of the gunshot.
"Aw shit, Brice! Goddamn!"
"Whatchu expect me to do? She was in pain, dude! Let me handle the heavy shit. Y'all just scoop that dough up and check the front. See if it's clear to jet." Then Brice said to himself, "Aw shit? Aw shit is right. Can't tell me how to do this shit." Ringo and Cooksie looked at each other, unsure of how they even found themselves in this trap with this psycho.
Still on the floor, the blonde's eyes were wide with terror. She began screaming continuously now that Brice was approaching. Quick to shoot her, Brice put a stop to her noise. He then shook his head, somehow disbelieving his own actions.
"Let's be out," demanded Cooksie, hastily stuffing the last handful of cash into the second knapsack.
Jesse Champagne's desire to clear her mind for some decision-making somehow spiraled out of control—no less than a silver dollar dropping into a well, smacking against its walls toward certain loss. A certain end.
There was a small crowd that gathered on the sidewalk, by the parking meters at the curb. Jesse couldn't tell if they were pointing at a bunch of TVs there in the window of Everyday Electronixx, or if perhaps there was an in-store celebrity appearance.
But who would be appearing here inside of the check cashing outlet?
No matter, the idea of an in-store appearance made her bubbly inside. So she stopped to get a peek. It wouldn't be long before that was her, with appearances in every major city. Of course, there were other things to complete first: the contract . . . meetings with producers in Pleasantville, Brooklyn, Mt. Vernon, Atlanta, and L.A. But she couldn't wait till the hard work paid off.
Wow. L.A. I'm really going to L.A. Soul Train, B.E.T.!
Traffic was at a standstill on Queens Boulevard, and it seemed to be heaviest where Jesse was walking. Meanwhile, she was having an important conversation with her conscience.
Don't be hasty, Jesse. L.A. will come soon enough . . . Right now you've got to clear your mind . . . decisions . . .
And just to think, all of these people on the sidewalk—the drivers gazing from their cars, and the proprietors in their store windows—they had no idea who was strolling past them.
In a few months they'll know . . . and they'll be climbing over one another to get my autograph.
Jesse digressed from her "clear thinking" once again. However, in the great kaleidoscope of life, she wasn't too far from the mark. The talent this woman had could rival most others the world over. The singing and dancing made her a songbird that could flutter in the wind. Her ability to play sixteen instruments—not counting her beautiful voice or the way she handled a harmonica—meant she had more talent and potential in the tip of her finger than most others could claim in their entire body.
But it was during this daze—this state of wonder that she was caught up in, the fascination for the day itself—that Jesse was thrown for a spin and hurled into the center of the sudden events before her. A blue and white police vehicle came to a screeching halt there in the street. Another whipped around into reverse, its wheels also burning rubber against the boulevard's asphalt until he came to an awkward halt. A third vehicle skidded and barely missed a head-on collision with the first vehicle. Two more vehicles—both of them unmarked, egg-shaped sedans—were positioned in a jagged arrow that was directed toward the crowded sidewalk.
Jesse froze, as though this were her first time on stage. She was that pie-eyed deer, spellbound by bright headlights. Only this was daylight, and she was no animal. This was Jesse, the aspiring entertainer . . . the butterfly whose performance level was magic. Most anyone would call this unbelievable, how so much chaotic activity could come stomping down so far and so fast, sucking this harmless woman into its violent path.
"Fuck that! We go for ours," barked Brice. "I ain't gettin' stuck in here—we good as dead. They only five cars out there. So I say we go out blastin' at whateva. Ain't no way they'll be expectin' that. Here." He passed Ringo the 9mm—the one belonging to the dead proprietor—and without hesitation, Brice turned around and began blasting through the windows of Just Right with the Uzi.
Ringo experienced an instant of indecision, but he ultimately went along with Cooksie and Brice, bolting through the door with that fuck-it mentality and a new title: murderer.
"CLEAR THE SIDEWALK—NOW!" an officer's voice squawked over the squad cars loudspeaker. The sound of the announcement bounced and echoed off of the various surrounding buildings, creating the illusion that this wide artery of daily commerce was but a canyon where the mayhem escalated with each passing second. Pedestrians scattered, fell over one another, and ducked as best they could out of harm's way. The gunmen—whether they knew it or not—had a field of protection in these frightened bystanders; obstructions which made it impossible for police officers to fire at will. Two of the gunmen grabbed innocent women as their living shields while they continued pelting police vehicles and other cars with their wild gunplay. Officers crouched behind their wide-open car doors as bullets pinged and panged along the metal, fiberglass, and chrome surfaces.
"Back the fuck up! Back up! I swear to God, I'll shoot this bitch. I will!" threatened one gunman. In the meantime, officers duckwalked around various vehicles, trying to get a better shot at the guy as he moved in front of the Tin-Pan restaurant. Pulling the woman close to him so that they were body to body, the gunman seemed to have an easy time of it, snatching her up as if she were light as a feather, or else weak and out of shape. He had his arm around her neck now, sure to keep her wedged between himself and certain fate.
"P-please," the hostage struggled to say. "Don't doth-this to me."
"Shut up. Shut the fuck up!" As the gunman grunted in the woman's ear, his teeth clenched and his eyes darted every which way. He did his best to eye everything all at once. And the woman was more obedient now, moving in step with her captor toward the end of the block. At the same time he was saying things in her ear, outside of any officer's ability to hear.
Ringo was breathing so heavily that he could barely get a word out.
"Do what I tell you and—"
They must've thought he was blind, and that he couldn't see the cop circling around the opposite way. He pulled the woman closer, inhaling the perfume from her neck as he gave instructions.
"—you won't get hurt." Ringo couldn't even convince himself of that, with his senses spinning so turbulently, to the point that he was in a vacuum, playing every second of this by ear.
In haste, he fired wild shots at the crawlspace under the van until there was a pain-filled wail. He fired another in the direction of the car, guessing that he could ward off the cop in hiding. Sirens continued to approach from a distance, making this more of a hopeless encounter, increasing Ringo's level of desperation.
Gun.re was also constant farther down the block, in the opposite direction from where Ringo was moving. Cooksie and Brice were doing battle with 5-O, shattering the windows of nearby storefronts and surrounding vehicles. A pedestrian was struck down. Another was wounded. In the space of a few seconds, this popular commercial strip went from an orderly economic melting pot to a deadly war zone. It was a scene that astounded gridlocked drivers, shell-shocked shoppers, and business owners, who cleared employees and patrons from the forefront of their stores. It was a nightmarish episode that none of these folks could've imagined, but one over which they'd likely lose sleep for weeks and months and years to come.
There was a surprise shot that came at Ringo, and the woman he held hostage went limp. A blotch of red stained her white business suit somewhere at her waist. That's when he felt himself dragging dead weight and realized: Oh fuck! They shot her! Mothafuck! It seemed that po-po was also playing it "by any means necessary."
No other choice left him, Ringo raised both of his weapons, leaving the young woman slumped on the sidewalk, and he blasted at anyone in sight. Things happened fast, and before he knew it he was sprinting around the corner.
This was a breath of fresh air for Ringo, since all of that mayhem was somewhere behind him. None of the cops (as far as he could tell) were following him yet. But he was sharp enough to know they'd be right behind him, armed to the hilt. Would they blame me for that woman? he couldn't help wondering, even as he huffed and swallowed and ran for his life, doing his best to keep the knapsack from falling off his back.
The block down which Ringo sprinted was one of those narrow Queens streets that allowed for just one lane of traffic, and that was perfect for him. Just one or two pedestrians were strolling in the distance—not even in his way.
Constantly checking for 5-O over his shoulder, Ringo continued on like a football team's wide receiver, breaking between parked cars, then across the street toward a schoolyard with its side wall mural of Malcolm X and Dr. King shaking hands. He was confident that nobody could match his speed, and it was impossible for any police vehicles to come after him since there was some traffic crawling slowly toward Queens Boulevard. Not wanting to take his escape for granted, Ringo imagined one cop radioing another, reporting his location, direction, and description. Sure that someone had seen him enter the schoolyard, Ringo ducked into a cove where a water fountain extended from the wall, and where a door—maybe to a storeroom or something—was positioned. Out of breath, with his back against the wall, Ringo felt like a big, bright announcement in his sky blue jacket. He removed the knapsack, then the jacket, and he finally knelt down to repackage his part of the prize money. His attention shifting every which way, Ringo felt 100 pounds lighter, and yet there was still his 160-pound heart banging in his chest. Turning the jacket inside out so that the white lining now showed, Ringo wrapped sacks of cash from the knapsack—a sure "red flag" for authorities—and he filled the jacket. He tied the whole thing into a neat hobo's sack and tossed it over his shoulder with the sleeves as a handle. Only briefly did Ringo look up and see the quote under Malcolm and Martin: Give Peace a Chance. But it was a saying that, by this point, came too late. Ringo only had room to be afraid, not inspired.
Excerpted from RAPPERS 'R IN DANGER by Relentless Aaron
Copyright © 2000 by Relentless Aaron Relentless Content.
Published in June 2009 by St. Martin's Press
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.