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A Hood Rat Novel
By K'wan Foye
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2009 K'wan Foye
All rights reserved.
The new school year was a week old, so the block was absent of the normal noises of children running around, causing all types of hell. This suited the four gentlemen sitting around their makeshift card table just fine. It had seemed like forever since they were able to enjoy a nice breeze in front of their building without the bullshit young people tended to bring with them. The four old heads were referred to as "the Senate" by the locals because of their constant presence and meddling on the block. More often than not they enjoyed drama-free afternoons, unless of course they were at the center of the foolishness.
"Man, you gonna play or what?" Harley asked in a gruff voice. His ever-present Newport 100 was pinched between his thick lips, bobbing when he spoke. Harley had been a career criminal before old age and lead poisoning had slowed him down. Getting shot repeatedly can do that to you.
"Quiet, fool; don't be in such a rush to get this ass whipping!" Rayfield replied, still examining his cards. The fisherman's cap he always wore was tilted back slightly, showing the top of his balding head. He had been among the first to move into the block back when white folks had started abandoning Harlem. Rayfield wasn't a wealthy man, but his eyes had seen some truly amazing things. From the rise of fall of the last street kings to Harlem's resurrection, Rayfield had been there.
"Man, it ain't rocket science; hearts led, so play a damn heart." This was Cords, the so-called lover of their crew. Though Cords was getting on in age, he still carried himself like a gentleman. That morning he sported a white polo shirt and a houndstooth sports coat. As always, his thinning, processed hair was laid to the side. He'd worn it like that for nearly half a century. Back in the days, Cords had been the bass player for a teen band, but his star had since dwindled. It had been more than forty years since his group had cut their first album, but let him tell it, he could give Chris Brown a run for his money.
"What I tell y'all 'bout that cross-board shit?" Sonny said in his deep southern drawl. He shifted on his crate so that his back was to the street when he poured a snort of Five O'clock vodka into his Pepsi bottle. Dressed in overalls and dirty work boots, with a stained bandanna tied around his neck, Sonny's appearance screamed country nigga, but he wore it proudly. Sonny had once been a sporting man who frequented the gambling holes and juke joints of Georgia, trimming suckers of their money and their women. Life was good until he slept with the wrong man's wife and ended up getting his throat cut. Now Sonny was just an old man, humbled by the weight of knowing that he was going to die with nothing.
So it would go with most, if not all, of the men at the card table. They were men of a bygone era with nothing to hold on to except the broken promises the streets had made, only to throw them to the dogs when their numbers came. The game was different and there was no room for old men, or rules. Though the Senate may not have had much, a cold beer and the good company of one another made the days easier to deal with.
"Somebody play a damn card this century!" Harley demanded, dropping ash on the table.
"See, that's the problem with you country niggaz," Rayfield began, slapping a queen of hearts on the table, which to everyone's surprise ended up being boss in the suit. "You be too busy running ya damn mouths to focus on the game." He snatched up the four cards and slammed a king of spades on the table and looked to his left, where Harley was sitting. "Jump if you got it, chump!"
"Watch out now, me and mine came to play!" Cords danced in his seat.
"Fuck you, Cords, wit'ya washed-up ass." Harley threw down the only spade he had left, which happened to be a nine.
"I'd rather be washed up than set," Cords shot back, dropping his five of spades onto the pile.
"Say, who the hell that is?" Sonny asked, his eyes fixed on a forest-green Ford Explorer that had just pulled up next to where they were sitting.
"I don't know the two chicks in the front, but them muthafuckas they toting in the back surely had trouble stamped on their birth certificates," Rayfield said, fingering the switchblade that sat on his lap under the table.
* * *
Everybody in the neighborhood knew Rock Head and they all felt pretty much the same way: that his mother should've let the state have him years ago. Every hood had a kid that couldn't manage to keep himself out of trouble, but Rock was the personification of that. Rock was a snake to his heart, and the moment you turned your back on him he was bound to drive a knife into it. From robbery to drugs to extortion, Rock was with all that ... at least when he could manage to stay out of jail. Rock believed that if you were weaker than he was, then he could take what you had, but this didn't hold true for the second young man to slide from the truck.
Though he had grown some and now wore his hair in long box braids, Tech still had the face of a teenaged boy. At one point Tech had been one of the wildest young wolves in Harlem, a kid that would put in work just to say that he had. From his first lick he had attacked the streets with vigor, which stacked the odds against him that he'd make it to see eighteen. He was lawless and ready to die senselessly in search of a name, but a tragedy several years prior had caused a change in him.
Jah had been not only Tech's best friend and mentor but one of the greatest tragedies to touch Harlem in a long time. The wily gunslinger had built a name for himself in the streets and was whispered about like the boogeyman because of his antics. It had been like a great sigh of relief when he'd found someone other than the streets to give his heart to, but his newfound happiness had been short-lived. Jah had been murdered over a beef that had nothing to do with him, all because he couldn't let go of a debt. To mourn him he'd left a shell of a girlfriend and the battle-hardened soldier that Tech had grown into. When his friend had died, so had the innocent little boy that Tech had been. All that remained now was the monster his hardships had created.
Rock Head had been trying to get in with Tech for a while and it looked like he was finally staring to make progress.
"I'm telling you, son, these big-head niggaz is getting it down there, but they ain't got a shooter amongst them," Rock was telling Tech, who was busy watching the block. A habit that came from seeing one too many cats get laid out for not paying attention, a good amount of them having been laid down by him and Jah.
"And where'd you say these niggaz was from again?" Tech asked, jiggling his keys in the pocket of his loose gray sweat-pants.
"Amsterdam projects, my G. On some real shit, them niggaz be trying to make movies, but they ain't built like that. Duke lucked up and got a mean play on some work and some guns from a nigga that's about to go up and needs some quick bread. There could be anywhere from one to three keys, including the paper if you move during the drop."
"That's quite a piece of change," Tech did the math in his head, "but I gotta ask you something, Rock. Me and you ain't ever done big business together, so why throw me the lookout?"
"I'm trying to bring something to the table, my dude; you know I been trying to hook up wit'y'all for a skinnet," Rock Head told him.
The look Tech gave him clearly said he wasn't buying the story. "So you just gonna let us move on this deal on some goodwill shit?"
"I'm saying I wanna eat, too, but I'm too connected to the situation to avoid the headache that's gonna come from it. My angle is the fact that it's gonna be turf and work to go around once y'all clean house, and I'm trying to get in on the ground floor. You know how it goes, Tech."
"Yeah, I know how it goes, and that's just why I smell more to the story. How you know so much about this kid's business?" Tech asked, still not sure how to feel about Rock Head. He had heard some stories about the kid being a greaseball, but Tech gave everybody enough rope to hang themselves, so that way there was no doubt in his mind when he came to feed you your head.
Rock Head paused for a minute, trying to decide whether to lie or just be straight up with Tech. "Look," he lowered his tone, "the main nigga got a kid wit' my little sister, so I know his MO."
"That's some cold shit, Rock. You ain't gonna feel no way if we put the lean on your little sister's baby daddy?"
"Man, fuck that shit. It ain't like me and Duke got history. The only thing we got in common is my crying ass nephew that he don't do enough for anyhow. My sister is just too fucking stupid to take the nigga to court. We can pluck this nigga's stash and call it back child support!" Rock Head laughed, but Tech didn't.
Tech stood there for a minute, staring at the spade's game that had come to a halt on the curb. "A'ight." Tech turned back to Rock Head. "I'll have some of my peoples look into it. If everything pans out, then maybe we work something out. I'll get with you." Tech turned to leave, but Rock Head grabbed his arm. It wasn't an aggressive gesture, but Tech still stared at his hand as if it were a tumor he'd just noticed.
"Yo, Tech, I think we should move on them niggaz sooner than later," Rock Head urged him.
Tech's facial expression didn't change, but there was something dangerous dancing behind his eyes. He glanced over at the truck and saw that Silk was now standing outside it, smoking a Newport. Her alert brown eyes bored into Rock Head's, but Tech recognized the question behind them. Life or death? Tech turned back to Rock Head and spoke. "I said I'll have my people look into it and get back."
Realizing his mistake, Rock Head quickly removed his hand. "Right, right. Well, you know where to find me when you're ready, T."
"Indeed I do," Tech said before stepping off the curb and back to the truck.
"Fuck is up wit' that greasy-ass nigga?" Silk asked when they were back in the whip and off 140 Street. She wore her Yankee fitted cap broken ace-deuce, with her dreads spilling freely from beneath it. The ends were so fine that no matter how much beeswax she treated them with, they kept curling up on her. Silk was a gorgeous young mix of Jamaican and Puerto Rican, giving her skin a color that resembled rich milk chocolate. Her bowed lips were slightly pouted, exposing the gold across her bottom row of teeth. For as hard as Silk tried to be, there was only so much you could do to hide natural beauty.
"You know that muthafucka, always about a dollar," Tech said, pulling a Dutch from his pocket and splitting it down the middle with his pinky nail. "Got some niggaz that need to be relieved of their burdens and possibly relocated."
"What we talking, chump change or a score?" Silk asked. Tech could tell by the look in her eyes that the girl's wheels were already turning.
Tech leaned over and dumped the blunt guts out the window. "All depends on who you ask. Ol' boy says they'll be a few keys and maybe some cake, but I can't say for sure. The mark is from Amsterdam projects, and I only know of a few cats coming outta there that even played remotely heavy. It should be a good lick either way, but I only give it a fifty-fifty shot at being a great one."
Silk turned around to face the backseat. "We could rush them niggaz and end up only getting a few dollars, if anything. I don't know, Tech, running up on these fuck-boys sounds like greed more than anything else. Sounds like a waste of time to me."
"Then you're still stuck on chapter one of the hustler's handbook." Tech flicked the brim of her hat playfully. "Too much is never enough, lil' sis. You bleed a muthafucka till don't nothing else come out, then you move on to the next vic. Besides, this is about monopoly, not so much the cash."
"Whatever, yo." Silk turned back around in her seat.
"Yeah, I wouldn't mind a few extra dollars, but is this cat's word worth anything?" This was China White, the minority of the group. With bleached blond hair and ocean-blue eyes, China looked every bit of a Nordic princess. Though she was just shy of twenty, she carried herself as if she'd been here far longer. China could best be described as a curvaceous white girl with a brilliant mind and the swag of a hood chick.
Tech pondered it for a minute. "Nah, the boy is scandalous, but I don't think he'd be stupid enough to walk us into a setup. He lay one of us and the Animal is gonna come for his ass, everybody know that."
"I'm sure Caesar said the same thing about Brutus," China grumbled.
"Girl, quit being so damn paranoid, you always think a muthafucka is out to get you," Silk teased.
"Yeah, and it's my damn paranoid thinking that's kept us alive when we were living on the streets," China reminded her, stirring up old memories.
Physically, China White and Silk were polar opposites, but they shared similar passions, and hard-luck stories. Silk's mother was an old-school dope fiend whose only break from the high in a ten-year span was when she was pregnant with her only child and so-called worst mistake. Silk had always been the bane of her mother's existence, proverbial ball to her chain, even, and she made no attempt to hide this. It was never clear why her mother hated her, but Silk was always made to feel like the outsider in her house, and the fact that she was different didn't help.
When dope gets hold of you, the grip is never a gentle one, and Silk's mother was a testament to that. Sometimes she would get so high that young Silk would have to scour different dope to locate her. Silk became her mother's unofficial guardian and a permanent fixture in all the shooting galleries. It got to a point where the blow had Silk's mother so gone that she would even include her baby girl in her get-high schemes. Silk was pickpocketing and jacking since she was old enough to understand the hustle, all under her mother's tutelage. To the little girl it didn't seem wrong when her mother asked her to do something, because she was her mother. So, when she asked her to make love to a white woman for money, the girl complied.
Silk had always known she was different, but she had never actually had sex with a woman. She had an idea of what it would be like, but what her first time held was breathtaking. The woman was older and more experienced with the art. She brought life to places in Silk's body that she would look up on the Internet after the experience. Silk never told her mother, but she continued to see the woman for a while after.
The life of hustling and doping came to a crashing halt when Silk found her mother overdosed in her bedroom. It seemed that she had finally found that rainbow she had been chasing. With no family to take the fourteen-year-old in, she became a ward of the state, and that's where she met Sara Lucas, aka China White.
Back then, China was your typical Kelly Bundy — a bleach-blond chick with a nice body and not a whole lot of sense about the way things worked — or so Silk initially thought. She had grown up in small town just outside Rochester, New York, with her parents and three siblings on a small patch of land that had been in their family for a spell. Though the modest farm house didn't seem out of the ordinary, within the recesses of the property the Lucas family harbored a secret. China's father operated a crystal-meth lab that supplied almost 33 percent of the dealers in the Tri-State area. He took everything he'd learned working for twenty-something years in pharmaceuticals and got rich off it. Unfortunately, little China was right there to soak it all up. By the time she was thirteen she was able to competently cook or cut most street drugs.
When the feds finally rushed old man Lucas's barn, he was convicted before he even had a court date. He copped out to fifty years in exchange for his wife getting a reduced sentence. China's siblings were rounded up and placed in the system, but she managed to elude capture and make her way to New York City. Unfortunately, she was arrested for trying to lift a chain off Canal Street. Being naïve about bootleg jewelry, she thought she had a come up, but ended up with a case instead. She was placed in the New York City juvenile-care system. China knew that as soon as her name was run through their runaway system they'd know she was a fugitive from the drug raid. It was her first and last night in the facility.
Excerpted from Section 8 by K'wan Foye. Copyright © 2009 K'wan Foye. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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