Some people are born under a bad sign, born outside of society, born to end up on the wrong side of the law.
Born Under A Bad Sign traces the lives of three such individuals.
Little Joe Dean. A hustler raised on the mean streets of New York City, who learned the in and outs of drug dealing as a young boy, who learned how to kill in the Vietnam War, who learned that raising a family comes with a price.
Joyce Cassel. A young woman raised on a farm in Storm Lake, Iowa, who was sexually abused by her father, who ran away from home as a teenager, who turned to prostitution to survive.
Jason Dean. The son of Little Joe and Joyce, who found himself torn between the love for his father and mother, who failed at every attempt to fit in at school, who joined a gang to find his identity.
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Born Under a Bad SignA Novel
By Mike Wayne Hester
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Mike Wayne Hester
All right reserved.
Jason Dean saw the ghetto bird hover in the night sky over southeast San Diego. The laser white spotlight swept down grungy and scuzzy alleys, probed into grim and murky corners. Soon the ghetto bird would cast its spotlight on him like a cockroach on the run across a lighted kitchen floor. He hid behind a dumpster in the alley.
A patrol car pulled up to the front of the alley. Boys in blue got out of the car, shined their flashlights down the alley.
"Seen somebody duck in this alley. Know I did."
"Might be behind that dumpster."
"Let's call the chopper over."
The boys in blue returned to the patrol car, spoke to the ghetto bird by radio.
Jason Dean frantically searched the alley for an opened door. Found none. Then he felt the laser white spotlight of the ghetto bird fall on him. Showtime at the Apollo.
"Don't move. Don't say a word," the tall and older man in blue told him.
"I ain't did nothin'," Jason Dean replied.
"My partner said no talkin', bitch," the younger man in blue said as he slammed Jason Dean against the wall.
Jason Dean felt the air knocked out of him. He fell to the pavement.
The young man in blue stood over Jason Dean, fists clenched.
"Get the fuck up," he challenged.
"So you can knock me down again," Jason Dean replied, gasping for air.
The old man in blue took hold of his partner's arm.
"Take it easy, Charley. He's just a boy."
The young man in blue turned to his partner, stared coldly into his eyes.
"I've seen what these boys can do. So have you. These fucks don't have any respect for anything."
"Just read him his fuckin' rights, Charley."
"Stand up," the young man in blue shouted at Jason Dean. "Not gonna tell you again."
"Stand up, son. He won't hit you," the old man in blue told Jason Dean, his voice gentle and reassuring.
Jason Dean slowly stood.
"Are you intoxicated or high?" the old man in blue asked Jason Dean.
Jason Dean did not answer.
"Speak up or you'll find yourself back on the pavement," the young man in blue hissed at Jason Dean.
For two or three beats in time Jason Dean hawked the young man in blue's face, looking for a weakness in his green eyes, brown eyebrows, thin lips, flaring nostrils.
"Naw, I ain't drunk. But I did smoke a little weed."
The old man in blue smiled at Jason Dean.
"Then you're not gonna be any trouble, are you?"
"No, sir," Jason Dean replied.
"My partner is gonna read you your rights. After that, you will be handcuffed and placed in the patrol car. There's not gonna be any trouble, is there?"
The young man in blue frisked Jason Dean for a weapon, read him his rights, handcuffed him. Both men in blue led him to the patrol car, placed him in the caged back seat.
Some of the people from the hood gathered around the patrol car. They peeked in the window, trying to see what kind of fool got himself arrested now. Some frowned. Some laughed. Some cursed.
For a beat in time, Jason Dean gazed at the faces. Some he knew, some he didn't. But he saw nobody that could help him. None of them had that get out of jail card.
The young man in blue sat behind the wheel, while the old man in blue got in on the passenger's side.
"We're taking you to the Juvenile Authority," the old man in blue told him.
As the patrol car pulled away from the curb, Jason Dean glanced out the window. He saw the small crowd break up and walk away to homes, to work, to loved ones. None of them going his way. Not even the rest of his crew. Bailed on me like a motherfucker.
On the drive to Juvenile Hall, Jason Dean leaned back and closed his eyes. Who can I call? Dad. Those fuckin' G-funk friends of his that come to the house at all hours. Nobody.
As the patrol car pulled into Juvenile Hall, Jason Dean noticed how bright the lights from the high fences that surrounded the locked down compound shined on the parking lot and the red brick buildings.
When the young man in blue parked the patrol car and shut off the engine, the old man in blue turned around to Jason Dean.
"We're gonna take you out of the patrol car and frisk you once again. Then we're gonna check you in Juvenile Hall. There you will be uncuffed and placed in a holding cell. I don't want any trouble. Is that clear, son?"
After the frisk, the men in blue marched Jason Dean to a black metal door.
"Stand on that orange line," the young man in blue commanded.
Jason Dean glanced down, saw a strip of orange tape a few feet in front of him. He stepped up the orange line.
The old man in blue punched in the code for the lock. The black metal door buzzed open. The men in blue led Jason Dean down a corridor to a window.
Behind the window, another man in blue, this one black, yawned.
"This graveyard shift is killing me. What do we have here?"
"A detainee," the old man in blue answered.
"What's the crime?"
All the boys in blue laughed.
Jason Dean grimaced.
"What's your name?" the black man in blue asked Jason Dean.
"711 Front Street."
"Live with both of your parents?"
"What's her address?"
The black man in blue glanced up at the old man in blue.
"Does he have any valuables?"
"Ten dollars and seventy-five cents. Keys."
The old man in blue pushed Jason Dean's valuables through the slot at the base of the window.
"You can take him to 2A," the black man in blue said.
The men in blue marched Jason Dean down a corridor to another black metal door. This time a Hispanic man in blue opened the black metal door from the inside.
"Did he give you any trouble?" he asked the young man in blue.
"At first. But I straightened him out quick."
The Hispanic man in blue took hold of Jason Dean's arm.
"I got him from here, guys."
On the way to the holding cell, Jason Dean felt cold chills run up and down his body. A deep pain in his stomach. Dryness in his mouth. He did not connect with the surroundings. Lost in the sauce. Only when the cell door slammed shut did Jason Dean realize he was uncuffed and alone. He sat on the hard bench, bowed his head. I've done some fuckin' shit now. Fuck it, dog. How did it come down to this?
Chapter TwoPredators of Birdland
Dupree Dean locked the door of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem every night at nine o'clock. Most nights he walked straight home to his apartment in the brownstone at 121 West 122nd Street, where he heated a can of soup or made a sandwich for dinner and listened to WJZ, the jazz station on the radio. However, on this cold evening in December 1949, he took a ride on the A Train to Broadway and 52nd.
Birdland, the new jazz club named after Charlie Parker, opened its doors tonight for the first time.
Dupree Dean loved jazz, especially Bebop. The way Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie changed chords and played notes so fast he had to focus on the music to understand what was going down. Alone in his apartment he would smoke a joint and lose himself in the new, defiant music. During those brief moments, he did not care about his meager wage job as sales clerk at the bookstore, only the feeling of elation that rushed over him mattered. The rush never lasted long, and when it wore off, he found himself staring at the dirty white walls of his empty apartment.
At the ticket window, Dupree Dean paid the seventy-five cent admission and descended the six steps into Birdland. Photomurals by Herman Leonard of Bird, Dizzy, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Lennie Tristano decorated the walls. On the right side of the clubs were booths along the wall and tables in front of the bandstand. This section had a cover charge. Along the left wall was the bar. Behind the bar live exotic birds from all over the world squawked in their cages. Customers had to buy drinks to sit at the bar. However, between the bar and left side of the bandstand, cordoned off by a low wooden rail, was the bleachers. Here he could sit all night without a cover or having to buy drinks.
Dupree Dean sat in the bleachers and pulled out a small flask from the inside pocket of his winter coat. He took a quick sip of some cheap cognac, and then placed the flask back in the coat pocket. He felt the hot liqueur burn down his throat to his belly and the tension of the workday start to ease.
After a few minutes, Dupree Dean got up from his seat in the bleachers, made his way to the bathroom. In a stall, he lit up a joint, took four or five tokes. The smoke seeped into his lungs. His mind tingled. He sighed deeply.
When Dupree Dean returned to his seat in the bleachers, he found that an old friend sat next to him.
"What's up, Coop? Haven't seen you in months. Where you been keeping yourself?" Dupree Dean asked Tom Cooper.
Tom Cooper beamed Dupree Dean a crooked smile of missing and yellow stained teeth. His worn and dirty suit needed pressing and cleaning. There was a time Coop would have never looked this bad in his apartment, let alone out in public. What's happen to him?
"Been around. Just haven't been in the clubs since I got laid off and most of the musicians play on 52nd Street."
"Once was a time I could walk a few blocks down to Minton's Playhouse or Monroe's Uptown House to see Bird or Dizzy."
"Whites are scared to come to Harlem these days."
"And since whites bring in the money, musicians gotta go where they get paid."
"Why is everything in the white world centered on money? I'm having a fuckin' time of it trying to make ends meet on unemployment. Soon I won't be getting any unemployment. Then what?"
"Things have a way of working out."
"Maybe. But enough shit about money. I came here tonight to forget my problems. There're a lot of nice looking women here tonight."
For the first time Dupree Dean noticed the women in the club. White and black women talked and danced with men of both races. In jazz clubs, there were no color barriers when it came to sexual preference. Not like the real world.
Dupree Dean saw her at the bar. Tall and slim, dressed in a black satin dress, she had green eyes and caramel skin. Most of the time, he buried his need for a woman deep in his soul. He didn't need to fall in love and end up hurt when it didn't work. He'd been down that road enough times. Nevertheless, when he gazed at that woman at the bar, he felt that emptiness of being alone in the world that can drive a sane man mad. Maybe it would be different this time.
"Know that woman at the bar, Coop?"
"Sure. She's Skye Scott. Some say her father is white."
"I'd like to tap that ass."
"You and everybody else. But, Dupree, she comes with a price tag you can't afford."
"Man just got to give it a try sometimes, Coop. Never know what might happen."
* * *
Skye Scott sat at the bar with her friend, Della Rowe. In a loud, disturbing squawk, the orange and blue parrot behind the bar repeated every dirty remark she had ever heard at a club, and made it almost impossible for her to hear all the gossip Della Rowe had to tell. All of a sudden, she felt eyes on her. Deep and sad eyes. She turned to look. In the bleachers. He smiled at her.
"Don't want to get mixed up with nobody from the bleachers, Skye," Della Rowe whispered in her ear. "They don't have the money to show a woman a good time. Wait. Some man will buy us a drink soon enough."
But Skye Scott liked what she saw. He reminded her of Dizzy Gillespie. Sparkling smile. Sharp suit. Shined shoes. The wire rim glasses and red beret made him look like a black intellectual. A man on a mission.
"He sure has eyes for you. Can't take them off you. Beware of this one, Skye. He's serious."
"Maybe I want someone serious."
"Then you're headed for trouble, girl."
The bartender placed two drinks on the bar, pointed to the two sharp dressed men who had a table in front of the bandstand.
"Those gentlemen would like to buy you ladies a drink and invite you to sit at their table."
Della Rowe smiled, waved at the men.
"Can't beat a front row table. See what I'm telling you, girl. We deserve the best. Best seats. Best Drinks. Best men. You don't want a man from the bleachers. He can't give you all that you want."
The men waved for the women to join them.
"Get a move on, Skye. We're gonna have a high time tonight. I got an itch and one of those men gonna scratch it."
* * *
Two weeks passed before Dupree Dean returned to Birdland. This time he sat at the bar. The crowded club buzzed with talk and laughter, while on the bandstand Symphony Sid, who worked as a DJ at WJZ, introduced the band to the radio audience:
"Dizzy, Bird, and Bud Powell are here until Wednesday. So come on down and dig, what I've said before, three of the greatest gentlemen of modern music. What will you do first?"
"Blue 'N' Boogie," Dizzy Gillespie replied.
"That was done with Dexter years ago, wasn't it?"
Dizzy Gillespie smiled and nodded.
"Then here it is - Blue 'N' Boogie."
Halfway through the first set Dupree Dean saw Skye Scott sweep down the stairs of the club and sit at the end of the bar. His heart fluttered. His mouth became dry. His stomach quivered. Never before had he felt this way about a woman. Sure, he had dated other women. Some better looking than Skye. But she was the one. He didn't know why and didn't care.
At the break between sets, Dupree Dean bought Skye Scott a drink and sat next to her at the bar. Her scent of lavender and chamomile lingered in the air to tease him. The way she gazed at him with those emerald eyes made him want to kiss her. When he touched her smooth bronze skin, his flesh tingled with desire.
For a moment, he got control of himself. What kind of spell is this woman weaving on me? Then he decided to let her magic engulf his senses. I don't want to go back to my empty apartment, my lonely life. Not tonight. Not never again.
When Birdland closed, Dupree Dean and Skye Scott got a room at the Hotel Teresa.
* * *
Six weeks later Skye Scott found she was pregnant. As she walked from the doctor's office to her studio apartment in a brownstone on Amsterdam Avenue, the streets seemed like an endless maze that had no opening, the buildings stood out against the grey sky like towers of a prison, and the people appeared to be ghosts lost in the infinite. She stopped at a liquor store a block from her apartment to buy a bottle of cheap cognac. The clerk tried to hit on her, but she iced him cold.
That night in her studio, Skye Scott got drunk and cried, as the debate whether to keep the child or have an abortion raged in her mind and heart. Finally, she passed out without coming to a conclusion.
The next morning, hung over and depressed, Skye Scott called Della Rowe.
"I'm pregnant," she confessed to her best friend.
Silence for one two, three, four beats.
"Della, you heard what I said?"
"What you gonna do?" Della Rowe whispered like a child in church.
At that moment, Skye Scott decided:
"Gonna have the baby."
"You sure? Have you thought this all the way through?"
"That baby is a part of me that I want to keep."
"Jesse the father?"
"Maybe. Not sure."
"What do you mean by ... not sure?"
"I've been with another man."
"Somebody I met at Birdland."
"The one we met the first night, that bought us those drinks."
"Not the one in the bleachers. The serious one."
"I'm afraid so."
"What you gonna do?"
"Talk to Jesse first."
"You think it's his child?"
"Hope Jesse thinks it is."
Skye Scott called Jesse Odom that evening. They had been going out for over a year but had never talked marriage or even getting serious. She liked him a lot but didn't think she loved him. However, that did not matter. What mattered now was her child needed a father.
Excerpted from Born Under a Bad Sign by Mike Wayne Hester Copyright © 2010 by Mike Wayne Hester . Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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