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"You need to do the cover of InnaViews," says my publicist, Jorge.
"They're the hottest music publication on the stands, Diamond," Jorge says. "Circulation eight hundred thousand. Eight hundred thousand. Do you know what that means, Diamond? They can take you to the next level. They really can."
Rosetta is standing in front of the range, playing with the oven's latch, twisting the knobs for the burners.
She gives me that look of innocent defiance. I swear I see her eyes roll when she turns back around.
"Rosie!" A bit angrier now.
She gives one knob a quick turn to the left.
Tek-tek-tek-tek-tek-tek-tek-tek-tek...The stovetop kicks out that incessant clicking, the pilot trying to ignite the burner.
"Ro -- " I run, grab her, turn off the stove.
"Now why you gonna go and do that?"
Her tongue tips out through the space where her two front teeth used to be and she trembles on the inside of my elbow when she giggles.
I make like I'm angry by screwing up my face.
"No," I say. She's her grandmother, able to see right through me. She smiles and flings up her arms to the ceiling for a hug.
Jorge is still talking when I get back to the receiver.
"Man, I don't know about doing any more press right now," I say. "A nigga's tired. And I definitely ain't doing InnaViews. I don't trust them motherfuckers as far as I can throw 'em."
"But the exposure, Diamond. Think about the exposure."
"Yeah -- exposure. Just like they exposed Men of Sin. Nah, I don't trust them. It feels like a setup. They never checked for me before, why now?"
"A setup?" He laughs. "Diamond, I keep telling you that you really need tiling on the other end.
"Man, don't make me have to take a trip up there and bust your ass on the next V.I."
He laughs that gruff, carefree laugh. "Man, you need to get your ass up here. I ain't see you in weeks."
I laugh, happy to hear Michael happy. He's seventeen months into a twenty-five-to-life bid, but I don't think he realizes that yet, like he's in fierce denial. His mood usually switches from despair to anger like a pendulum. If he's not bitching, he sounds suicidal. He doesn't belong in there. Whatever his problems are, incarceration is only going to make them worse. No one comes from behind those walls whole.
"Yo, niggas up here is feeling that 'We Stay Quiet' joint."
"Say word. I'm a girl in high school who's just been told that the captain of the football team wants to take her to the prom."
"No word of a lie. Cats' feeling that shit. Everyone up here can relate to that joint."
They'd ask me about you and you about me / How could it be? / Wiped the prints from the gun / I stood firm 'cause I knew you couldn't run / You said, When they come through the door, let me be the only one / Best to be jetty, son / You got hopes and dreams, so you don't need to go down / There's bodies all over the ground / And two of them caught it from your four-pound / Break out before they come around / I said, Don't talk so much because when you do there's this funny sound / They took me in the back / Put you in the emergency truck / Bitch questioned me, but I kept my mouth shut / 'Cause I knew 'til your last breath you wasn't giving up fuck...
"Yo, you need to come up here and do a show. That shit would be off the hook!"
"True," I say. "But what's up? You keeping your head up?"
"Yeah. Some kid caught it in the mess hall last night over a carton of milk, though. Germans tore his chest the fuck open with a laundry hook. Shorty was getting down with Muslims, reading the Qur'an an' shit. Some Netas did it. You know, them Ali Baba mother fuckers ain't having it. They sharpenin' they scimitars right now. It's 'bout to be fuckin' Jihad out this bitch."
"Damn. You okay though?"
"C'mon, son. These niggas don't want no part of Gage. My name rings bells up here like Notre Dame."
I want to tell Michael that he's no longer in the streets. I want to tell him that he gotta watch his back; that I paid off three contracts on his life with the royalties and a few guest appearances on some wack rappers' albums.
"How Rosie?" he asks.
"She fine. She sleeping on my lap right now."
"That's hot, son. I know she gettin' all big an' shit. How old she is now?"
I want to answer, How long you been in jail nigga?
I can tell he's thinking about it.
"You got that commissary?" I ask.
"Yeah. Good lookin'."
"And them mix tapes?"
"No doubt, them shits is the bomb."
"And the magazines?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got all that shit," he waves me off with his words. The fire that he greeted me with is all but gone. "What I ain't got is a visit from my man. I know you busy and all, but try'n make your way up here."
We both stay silent for a minute. I hear a gang of vulgar conversations going on in the background. Someone's beefing about phone time. A C.O. is banging something wooden against something metal, telling everyone to quiet down, or else.
"Don't be forgettin' about me, son," he says.
"Never that," I say. "Never that."
Cop yright © 1999 by Prakazrel Michel