Authors: Kenya Wright,Jackie Sheats
stepped inside my penthouse with her two friends.
Security had already notified me an hour ago that she’d entered the first floor’s lobby. I’d shown them her picture from one of the magazines I owned. Granted, the image only revealed half of her face, but no one could ever forget those eyes and that hair.
In interviews and in photoshoots she tied the black scarf over half of her face and let those red strands outline her in mystery. That was how I spotted her in the first place. She’d been big news, a local street artist that had somehow managed to get world-wide attention for her murals.
And those murals. . .
Wynwood Art District was the only part of Miami where graffiti artist could legally cover up buildings to their hearts desire. It was the one place where if you drew on the sidewalk, you didn’t go to jail.
The only unspoken rule: Don’t paint over other people’s work.
I’d gone down to Wynwood, myself to witness Red’s murals, see if the images came alive like they did in the magazines.
Dear God. Her murals.
Red had a gift with color, but even more important, she owned the wall, made her viewpoint come alive right on the brick.
I’d stood there in front of Red’s massive mural.
A giant black woman covered most of the space. She was naked, sitting, and holding her legs toward her chest as if that was all she had left in the world. On her face, a mask hid her identity, one made of dead babies and rotting kids, their eyes closed to the world, their bodies graying. Red gashes decorated their tiny faces. Intestines dangled from their swollen bodies.
And all around the giant woman, chaos happened on the ground under her. Tiny police pointed their guns at mysterious figures in black-hooded sweatshirts. Wicked men with jeans hanging down to their knees, gripped crying women by their necks and appeared to be strangling the life out of them. Discarded liquor bottles leaked onto the floor and formed puddles where hypodermic needles floated.
At the top of the entire mural, it read,
Ode to Hip Hop: I used to love her.
At the bottom she tagged the mural with her signature—a smoky woman covered in a red hood.
Instantly, that mural sparked something inside me. It woke me up.
How long had I walked the streets and seen the same old drawings, or even worse, art that had basically been ripped off from my own creations? Where had all the innovators gone? Who would take the crown from me, and make the street art game even more, something legitimized, something taken on its core level.
She’s definitely worthy of the crown.
In that moment, it didn’t even matter what she looked like. Desire burned through to every inch of my flesh. If she’d been there, I would’ve kissed her without saying hello. Just rushed to that lush frame, pulled her into my arms, and explored her mouth with my tongue.
I needed more of Red’s work. Like a wolf, drool dripped from my fangs and hunger ruffled my fur.
Sun rays shifted to moonlight, and still I stayed in Wynwood, looking for more of her work.
I was a meth head, trolling the streets like a drug-crazed zombie with my hands straight in front of me, licking my cracked lips and hungering for my next hit.
My little red riding hood.
I traveled the whole district, walking, step by step, my limo driver slowly following me down as I searched for more of Red’s murals.
I hadn’t been disappointed either.
She painted more vivid images on each block. Naked witches that burned bouquets of roses on the beach under the moonlight. Men chained to their chairs, remote controls nailed to their hands, eye sockets spilling over with sharp knives that were shaped like dollar signs at the points. Television cords injected into little kids’ arms like tiny heroine addicts shooting up for the evening.
Red had a lot to say and refused to be ignored.
The last mural I walked to that night, Red, herself, sat in front of it, smoking a joint and ignoring the few bums or neighborhood folk that traveled by. Hipsters and smokers were known to hang in the area at all times of night. This late in the evening no one bothered each other and everyone let the artists chill and do their thing.
But I was irritated.
Red was too small for the streets, too soft-looking, too silky. Did she not worry about getting raped or attacked? What about the police who sometimes patrolled the area? Granted, Wynwood kept a cloud of marijuana smoke hovering over the district daily. Still, it was illegal to smoke. And there, she sat by herself, late at night, high and painting until her heart’s content. Music plugged in her ears.
There’s no way she has a man. Not a real one. What man would let his woman sit outside in the middle of the night, high, and on her own?
I texted my limo driver and told him to go off until I needed him again. Once he left, I blended into the shadows, watched her paint, and then followed her home. It had only been to make sure she was safe, nothing more. That was what I told myself.
Days later I found her at a new wall, creating an even deeper vision, although I couldn’t tell anyone what she’d ended up painting. By then, I only focused on Red—the flexing of her arms as she raised them in the air and sprayed her images, the curves that she couldn’t hide underneath those painted-on coveralls, the lovely voice that filled the air as she sang out loud, her headphones snug in her ears.
And now she’s here, in my home. I can’t believe she actually answered my invitation.
“Sir, would you like me to get you anything?” My assistant Pierre asked as I sat in the back of the room with a clear view of her.
Pierre cleared his throat. “Sir?”
I turned to the man. He’d served me since my first mural sale. An art museum had paid me half a million dollars for a large image of Abraham Lincoln smoking a joint and sitting on the shivering backs of crouching, naked black people.
It had just been a dream, some weird visions after an all-day bong fest with my friend, Tito. We’d gotten so high our eyes were slanted, red, and hard to keep open. When I woke, I forced Tito to help me make the dream a reality. We’d stumbled through the streets at three in the morning with back packs full of spray paint that we’d stolen from the store. Black ski masks hid our faces, just in case. We thought we were being stealthy and mysterious. We were lucky we hadn’t gotten shot or arrested.
Regardless, I chose the American Airlines Arena as my canvas. There was a Miami Heat game the next day, and I hoped to have some fun with the fans.
I spray painted it all, climbing a ladder that I’d had a friend drive out to me. Tito fell asleep. No one knew why the arena security had never caught me. Luck had just been on my side. And he was probably sleeping in his car.
I finished by dawn, right on time, dragged Tito home, cooked up ten eggs and eight slices of bacon for us, and then crashed on my couch. I’d had a decent apartment due to my day job doing IT helpdesk, a small start-up company.
Later that day, I woke up to news reports of the mural on not just the local news, but CNN. While I slept, word of my art spread all over the world. The city had rushed tons of workers down there to paint over it. By the time the game started, the arena was back to solid white.
Yet, Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art announced that they’d give half a million to the mural’s artist, if he or she recreated the image on canvas.
Tito went to the museum, dressed in a gorilla suit, and let them know that he was my representative. Used to dealing with ridiculous artists, they gave him the contract and delivered the canvas to an abandoned warehouse in Little Havana.
I reproduced good ole smoking Abe, while my friends looked out to make sure no police or any of the museum officials snuck out to see my identity. Once the canvas was delivered, I got the check and appointed Tito as head man in my newly formed entourage, and hired Pierre to represent me in all things from then on.
“Sir?” Pierre said again.
I blinked out of my reminiscing and grinned. “Sorry. I guess my head is all over the place today.”
“That’s okay.” Pierre’s black hair was cut short. He wore a blue suit and cream shirt, just like he always did. Like me, he was Cuban, but spoke much better Spanish than me. I was serious about the business of art, and if one wanted to do business in Miami, they needed to be fluent in Spanish. Most of the city’s top companies only spoke in that language, even though we sat right in the US. Pierre came in handy many times.
“Would you like me to get you something, sir?” Pierre asked.
“Yes.” I pointed at the glass, targeting Red. “You see that woman over there with that beautiful hair?”
“The one with the two others?”
He raised his eyebrows. “What would you like me to do?”
“Make sure all the staff knows that they need to spoil those three. Give them whatever they want, champagne, the caviar drizzled in hash oil, anything. Even my own stuff to smoke from the crystal bong I got in Paris to the vape pen done in pearl. They need to be impressed.”
“Yes, sir.” He nodded.
“And once their bellies are full and champagne glasses refilled, have the beautiful red-head come up to the rooftop through my private entrance.”
Pierre stopped nodding. “Have the red-head come up?”
“What should I say?”
“She’s a street artist. Tell her that I want a mural commission for my wall on the rooftop. She’ll need to meet me up there for further details.”
“Do you really want a commission?”
“Does it matter?”
“I’m just saying.” Pierre ran his fingers through his hair. “Sometimes you can get a little. . .obsessed, when you spot something that you like.”
“She’s not an obsession.”
“Isn’t she the one that you follow home every night?”
“I’m not following her.”
“And who told you that, by the way?”
A wrinkle appeared at the center of the man’s forehead. “Your staff is a bit worried.”
“Yes, sir.” Pierre placed his hands in his pockets. “However, she may not want to come up to the roof with me. I’m a strange man. Do I give her your real name or one of the others you use?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet.”
Pierre opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again, “Sir, I’m worried she might be a bit scared to go with me if I don’t even say who wants the commission. I should at least provide a name.”
“Well, Wolf surely won’t calm her nerves. That name would probably scare her.”
“She’s an artist, then she’ll know your work. Wolf should not be used.”
“How did you know she was an artist?” I asked.
“They say you like to wander the streets at night and stare at her work.”
“Make sure you tell this
to keep their mouths closed, so that
can keep their jobs.”
“Yes, sir. As far as your task for this evening, I definitely don’t want her to know you as Wolf. What I’m saying is that I can’t just tell her to come up to the roof without giving her a name.”
“You know what?” I chuckled to myself. “Go ahead and give her a name.”
“No, tell her that Dr. Sheep wants to see her.”
“Dr. Sheep?” he asked.
“Get it, a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”
He frowned. “Well-played, sir.”
“You don’t like it?”
“I would like to keep my opinion to myself.”
“Okay. Well, just keep a straight face, when you say it, please.”
“I’ll do my best.” Shaking his head, Pierre headed off, and I hoped everything would work according to plan.
I gazed back at the glass, showing Red having fun at my party.
People crowded my penthouse, tons of masked executives and models, entertainment people and even a few hidden politicians. Every year I held a 420 party, since the first time I’d heard the term.
Being a true stoner, street artist, and computer geek, I devoured every magazine that related to marijuana, art, and computers. I’d first discovered the term in High Times magazine.
Apparently, back in the 70s, a group of California teens would sneak off to a statue after school and smoke to their hearts content. The statue had been of no true importance, a memorial to some famous microbiologist. What had snared my attention was the fact that this group met at that spot each day, at the exact same time.
It became their thing. They’d used the phrase as a code word. The editor of the magazine found the story so inspiring, he declared that everyone should smoke at 4:20pm, no matter where they were around the world.
My 420 parties carried their own reputations. I provided the most expensive marijuana leaves, smoking tools, and munchie-quenching snacks. I had products shipped from all over the world.