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WANT SOME GET SOME
By PAM WARD
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Pam Ward
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFlo and Charles
Some folks will do anything to get what they want. Sell their mama in a heartbeat and not miss one note. Oh, they'll smile; grin so big they show all their back molars. But don't turn your back. Shoot, you better not blink. 'Cause there's those who'll yank a bone from a starving dog's jaw, or climb a tree just to peek at the stuff in your yard.
It was May, and L.A. was a bronze deep-fried hot. In 1997 was the worst ever heat wave on record. With all the windows gaped wide there was still no damn breeze. With his head in the freezer, Charles could not cool off. He looked at Flo's scowling face and groaned. All he wanted right now was to get out the apartment. In his mind's eye, he could already see Trudy on stage. It was the tragic way she swayed, singing with eyelids half closed, looking half sleep or strung out on dope. She was stacked. Had a break-your-neck-just-to-look kind of body. Men who'd already grabbed their car keys and stood up to pay sat back down in their seats and ordered more whiskey when Trudy came out on stage. When she sang, all the men would lean up in their seats, 'cause her hug-me-tight dresses showed off plenty of meat and sent waitresses back for more shots. Just watching her made Charles feel like he committed a crime but he took what he could like a crook.
And now he was in deep. There was no turning back. Charles stared at the intricate veins in his hand. It was dangerous but Trudy said they would go fifty-fifty. Wiping the sweat from his brow, Charles bit his own fist. He wanted it so bad that he could taste it.
Looking back, it all started with that smashed liquor bottle. Charles was coming home late, well past twelve on some nights, and Flo couldn't take it much more. She had a locksmith come over and change the locks on the doors, then she waited for Charles's car. Oh, he pounded like mad trying to get in that night. He ran to the front, then around to the back, yelling "open the door" over and over again, insanity soaking his eyes.
They lived in a backyard duplex, and the man upstairs groaned. Moving his arm under his pillow, he reached for his gun. He wanted to shoot through the floor.
During the racket, the neighbors began clicking on their lights. Some of them drifted outside in their robes trying to see what the heck was going on.
Flo didn't budge. She sat in the living room amused.
"Serves him right," she said smugly. "He can just sleep outside. That's what he gets trying to creep in this late."
But something inside Charles snapped while he pounded that door. Like a dropped glass, or the sharp blasting sound of a gun, or a bat someone swung in a car. He grabbed a giant ceramic pot, aimed it at the back door, and tossed it right through the paned glass. Charles stuck his hand in, twisted the lock, and walked through the busted pot and chunks of dirt on the floor.
Flo ran to the kitchen to survey the damage. "Are you crazy? Look at all this mess!"
"Why the fuck did you lock me out?" Charles edged toward her face. He wasn't tall but he was broad-shouldered and wide. He looked like a hotel front door.
"Because," Flo told him. "I'm sick of this, Charles! You're always coming home late. Always out at the club. What the hell is really going on?" Her anger only masked a sad, bitter wound. A hurt so deep that her bottom lip started quivering hard until she had to bite her lip with her teeth.
"You don't know shit!" Charles yanked the liquor cabinet open. He rarely drank more than an occasional beer. But during these last two fast weeks, he'd been drinking a lot. He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep. He was butchering his job. But how could he tell Flo that? Grabbing a Jack Daniels bottle, he took a big, sloppy swig. "Stay the fuck out of my business, okay?"
"You better not be cheating." Flo's narrowed brows scolded. "If I find out, you'll live to regret it."
Charles held the throat of the fat liquor bottle. He watched Flo out of the rim of his eyes. He was seething from being locked out, and she was threatening him now! This was too much for Charles to bear. So after wielding the bottle around for one lunatic minute, he flung it against the wall, smashing it to bits, just inches away from Flo's head.
Vicious shards scattered all over the room. Glass bashed into the porcelain sink and the booze left a huge ugly stain on the wall.
Charles grabbed his keys and rushed out the door.
"Come back!" Flo screamed, her voice like a mallet. "You better clean this up. I'm not playing with you, Charles!" She chased Charles through the weeds and down the long, busted-up driveway. She chased him all the way out to the grassless front lawn. She chased him right into the middle of the trash-ridden street, her whole face a wreck with hot rage.
But Charles walked fast. He refused to look back. He hurried down the walk and jumped back in his car.
"Go ahead and go, you postal-working punk. But if you leave, I may not be here when you get back!" Flo smacked her own ass, letting her hands trace along her hips. "I know you want this, huh? You begged for it last night!" She smacked her ass again, stretching both arms toward the sky, then she licked one of her fingers and touched her behind, making a fried bacon sound with her tongue.
Charles didn't look back. He switched on the ignition. He revved it so long some of the neighbors held their ears. And when he shoved it in reverse and backed the thing out, his tires left dark marks in the driveway.
"You want me!" Flo screamed, but only his taillights noticed. Charles was already gone.
Flo and Charles played the same routine a hundred times before. Flo pretended she didn't care. She tried to act nonchalant. But she loved Charles as much as a junkie loves his drugs. Craved him like a drunk does that last sip of scotch and even in her rage, standing in that cold concrete street, she'd suck a golf ball out a water hose to keep him.
But deep down something had begun to eat at her lately. Each day she felt something was slipping away. Oh, she laughed with her friends, pretended everything was okay. "Charles is just singing that same tune again. He'll be back," she'd say, making her voice seem upbeat, but those worry lines came just the same. Flo was thirty-four and a good twelve years older than Charles. Not many folks knew. You couldn't tell by looking. But Flo felt the age gap growing wider each day. Though she joked on the phone, she was really afraid, scared that Charles would make a play for a woman his own age.
Squeezing the steering wheel, Charles raced through the streets like a demon. He could still see Flo's smiling face in his mind. It was that cold laugh of Flo's that Charles hated most. It said he would never be anything in her eyes. It said she saw him in all of his smallness. It was that laugh he wanted to smash when he snatched that glass bottle. It was that laugh he wanted to leave, to drown out completely as his tires ate the road back to Dee's.
But wait now, we're leaping ahead of the story. There's a whole lot of mess that went down before this.
Chapter TwoDee's Parlor
"Hit me again, damn it!" Tony smacked down ten dollars. "They say money'll bring out the worst in some folks." Pearl smiled over the arch of her worn yellow cards. "Some'll kill just to get the last five from the jar."
"No one gives a hot fuck 'bout five bucks in a jar." Tony smacked his hand hard on the table again. "You gonna play cards or sit there and yap?"
Pearl ignored his remarks and munched on some pretzels. "Where's Miss Dee, huh? I ain't seen her in months. You got her hidden in some room or did you bury her in the yard?"
Tony ignored her and downed the remainder of his beer.
"I see what you're doing and I'm telling you it's ugly."
"Ain't this about a bitch. Have you looked in a mirror lately?" Tony slapped his friend Stan so hard on the back that Stan's drink sloshed all over his hand.
"You come up in the world, Tony," Pearl told him, unfazed. "Wasn't that long ago you were living hand-to-mouth on the street running a sneak game outta some fool's garage."
Tony stared at his cards and ran a hand around his stomach. He was a whale of a man, leaning on the mean side of fifty with a black, gummy smile, a bad smoker's hack, and a deep love for Johnnie Walker Black Label scotch. Tony was a pasty man who thought being fat was an asset. His conked hair was feverishly brushed to one side and held with a thick coat of Murray's grease. He ate rich food and resented having to ever work hard. If he did work, he spent more time eyeing the shapely legs going by, examining women's calves and trying to sniff at their breasts as they bent down to look through his stacks.
See, before working at Dee's Parlor, Tony sold these cheap posters. Used to lean them against the front of Dee's wall every day. The kind of bad art you see at gas station corners. Awful blurred drawings of Malcolm and King. Sadly drawn kids holding balloons in a tub in frames so damn cheap they put nicks in your hand.
"Seems like yesterday Tucker brought you into this place. It was '91, wasn't it. You wasn't but fifty and some change. In six years you're running the whole got damn club." Pearl shook her head slow, staring around the club sadly. "Hiring you was the worst thing he did before he passed."
"Tucker liked me. He hired me for my great gift for gab." Tony smacked Stan again and Stan's drink sloshed over his arm. "Hell, he told me my people skills dramatically increased the bar's tab."
"Humph." Pearl ignored him. She studied her cards.
Tony smiled, wiping the table until it gleamed. He threw the dirty rag across his broad shoulder. He poured his good friend Stan another stiff drink. Stan came to Dee's and stayed drunk every day.
"Tucker was glad he picked me. He considered me an asset." Tony nudged Stan, and Stan smiled at his glass. Agreeing with Tony meant he could drink free.
"You an ass, all right," Pearl said. "I will give you that."
Tony leaned like he wanted to take a good swing at Pearl.
"Oh, I really wish you would," Pearl said without flinching. Eventually Tony slowly sat back.
Pearl looked around the club. It had changed so much lately.
Dee's Parlor was a low-lit supper club that sat on the south side of neglect. It was on the hit-and-run corner of Washington and Tenth Avenue. Used to be an aquarium shop owned by a Chinese family, in the sixties. But after the Watts riots broke almost thirty years ago, the Chinese folks packed and left, moving to the west side to be with the whites. Washington Boulevard wasn't Watts, but it didn't matter back then. It was too close to all that black skin.
"Hit me again!" Tony barked, scratching the table with his cards.
"When Mr. Tucker bought the place it had been boarded up for years. He cleaned it, bought some used stools, tables, and chairs. Miss Dee cooked them big vats of well-seasoned food. Dee's Parlor used to be the best known black-owned restaurant in town." Pearl smiled and fanned her chest with her cards.
"What about Leo's on Crenshaw or Phillips in Leimert Park?" Tony lit a cigarette and blew the thick smoke.
"Or Johnny's Pastrami," Stan said, wiping his lip.
"And everybody knows Woody's keeps 'em lined up over on Slauson. You can smell their smoked beef from the curb." Tony rubbed his gut and smacked his lips as if he could already taste it.
"Those are small take-out shacks where folks get food in brown sacks. There's not many sit-down places to go any more. Green's shut its doors, and Memory Lane closed down. The Parisian Room is only a memory now. Shoot, Dee's Parlor is the last of the few standing."
"Why you telling me?" Tony asked. "Shoot, I was there too. You gonna play Tonk or you gonna get your photo book out? No one gives a hot fuck 'bout none of that stuff now."
But Pearl didn't care what Tony said and kept on talking. Stan didn't care either. He didn't want to talk. All he wanted was another free beer.
"Restaurant used to be a nice place you could take your lady after a date. You could catch a show or get a quick nightcap. An alligator bite went for one forty-five. A pucker shot set you back only a buck and a quarter. 'Member when well drinks were barely two dollars a glass? Shoot, a whole pitcher of draft was just one ninety-five." Pearl smiled, fanning her cards in her face. "Things were real nice back in the day."
"Back in the day's all you talk about now. Who cares what stuff used to cost way back then? Them days is gone. All I care about is how much to charge folks right now." Tony studied his cards. He scratched the side of his head and looked concerned. Stan pretended to look concerned too.
"I remember the singers. Shoot, we had the best talents! Esther Phillips sang here twice; we had Little Milton and Millie Jackson. O. C. Smith sang here so much the place was practically his home. Dee's rocked from Tuesday to four a.m. Sunday. Used to hear laughing and champagne bottles popping all the time. Oh, we had us a grand time back then." Pearl stopped and looked around; a sweet smile was on her face, but it changed looking at the rundown tables and chairs. The ugly black bars on the windows and doors made the once-bright place musty and dark. "We used to have good people. Didn't need them damn bars. Now all you hear is crashing bottles of beer and rowdy, loud, shit-talking men shooting craps."
"Shoot. We got people!" Tony stared at her hard. "Plenty of folks be lining up to come to Dee's now!"
"Different kinds of people." Pearl glanced at Stan.
"All people's the same. They all got the same wants."
"How the hell do you know what all people want?"
"I know what men want, and it's always the same." Tony held his cards with a confident air. He had a nine, a jack, and an ace. "They want money, and a good place to get a cheap drink, and some nice leg to see while they're there."
Stan nodded at Tony. Tony smiled back.
"Humph," Pearl muttered. She stared at her cards. She thought Tony was as dumb as a sack of manure. "If I had a dollar for every cockamamie thing I heard in here, I swear I'd be a damn millionaire." She stared hard at Tony over the rim of her glasses.
Tony got annoyed waiting for Pearl and sat up in his chair. "You gonna play or just sit and talk shit?"
"I dreamed about Miss Dee." Pearl smiled at her cards.
Tony squirmed in his seat. He tapped out a new Winston. He did not like this subject at all.
"She told me she doesn't feel safe anymore." Pearl held his eyes until Tony twisted in his seat.
He took a deep drag, blowing the smoke nice and slow. "Girl, please, nobody cares about your stupid-ass dreams." He didn't want to show she intimidated him one bit, so he stared straight back at her face. "Why don't you just mind your own business and play?"
But Pearl was no fool. She knew what he was doing. In these last months, Tony acted like Dee's Parlor was his. He put bars on the windows. He bought a wrought-iron door. He had the door hung with the hinges screwed on the right so the cops would have a time busting in. He started gambling and all kinds of betting on sports. He hired a strong-armed ex-boxer named Percy to stand watch and a felon who worked part-time named Ray Ray.
"I ain't dumb. You got them bars so no one barges in here-the same kind you put all over Miss Dee's house right before you carted her away. I remember. I saw Miss Dee change. She slipped down to nothing in no time at all. She's a pitiful size six if she's a day. You never feed her. She barely got out the bed. She stopped coming to the club after Mr. Tucker passed. I bet you got her holed up somewhere with the shades all pulled down. I still remember the last thing she said. She said, no matter how sunny each L.A. day blazed, to her everything turned gray. Like the whole world got old. Like some white clothes that got washed with a batch of black socks."
"I don't give a fuck 'bout no got damn black socks. Miss Dee was getting too old for this place. You got to have a man to run a hard place like this."
"This place wasn't hard until Miss Dee met you."
"She likes me." Tony grinned, "Whatchu want me to say. She had a twinkle in her eye whenever I came by." Tony held in the smoke. He let it float through his teeth. His smile was as wide as the Hollywood sign. "Don't hate the player, hate the game."
"You been eyeballin' Miss Dee like a fly does a steak. Hovering around her shoulders like a moth-eaten stole, waiting to swoop down and make your next move."
Tony drank a huge gulp and vulgarly belched. Stan took another swig too.
Excerpted from WANT SOME GET SOME by PAM WARD Copyright © 2007 by Pam Ward. Excerpted by permission.
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