Authors: RA Chandler
“Say what now?” he said with wide eyes.
“Listen, it might have nothing to do with you, but when the cops come around they’ll look at those big paws of yours and make assumptions. DNA takes a little time to establish and even then they'd look to see if you had gloves hidden somewhere.”
“Okay, this ain’t funny; sounds like you're talking about someone being dead.”
“The tenant, Gloria Jefferson, she dead, strangled by someone. She’s in her apartment, I reckon the deed was done a few hours ago, hid her behind the couch and went through her bag looking for something. I'm thinking someone with hands about your size took her air away.”
He might have been retired from boxing but he still had quick hands because I didn’t see the gun in his hand before it was being pointed at me.
“Listen, when I saw your open jacket I knew you were the business, your arms are too big, trapezium too dense and your jaw is too chiseled. You built more like some kind of super hero anti-hero assassin. So I won’t be trying to take you out one on one, you ain’t tougher than my gun.”
I looked at the gun; he didn’t seem to be holding it like someone used to shooting people. I could take it off him.
“What are you an ex-cop?” he asked.
“Used to work in special investigations for the D.A, find out stuff, disrupt stuff.”
“What that mean? Government shit like the C.I.A.?”
“Not so much, people who were going to be or had been indicted often need along with their associated to be kept away from witnesses; I’d sometimes ask neighbors and other questions about things they might have seen, that sort of thing.”
“So why you built like Michael Jai White?”
“Sometimes things got a little rough.”
He backed up away from me a little, “so you were saying someone is dead?”
“I knocked her door to have a word with her about something I’m looking into for a hotel she stayed at. No one answered so I went in, the door was unlocked. I didn’t see her until I was on my way out. There was no sign of a struggle, she’d been reading a magazine and looking at the fashion section, swimwear. Anyway she’s very dead, now put the burner away or I’ll take it off you.”
He put it away.
“You think I strangled her?”
“I was just trying to get a rise out of you, she’s got nail marks on her neck and yours are bitten to the skin so I doubt it was you unless you suffer from post murder nerves.”
We were both silent for a while, me because I was trying to think of what I had learnt and how an enquiry into blackmail had now turned into a murder investigation. I thought that he missed the poontang more than any sparkling conversation Miss Jefferson offered him.
“Henry, we got someone out front.”
“Wait here,” he said and went to the front locking me in the kitchen.
I was messing with the lock when I heard the shots coming from beyond the door, there were four shots so fast that they sound like one long blast of sound with a series of hiccups. I slammed my shoulder into the door, but that just bruised my shoulder because it had little give on the side it opened. So I ran this time and put my other shoulder into the part of the door by the hinges. It gave and I tumbled into the counter.
“It’s just a car backfiring honey,” said Henry’s mother. “Sounds like it was coming from near the garage.”
I jumped the counter, winced under the pain of my sore shoulder and ran out into the street.
Henry was in the street getting up off his knee, his leg trembling like he’d been hit with a haymaker and was having trouble making the count. Then he was down again on both knees crawling back to the office with his gun at his side. Then he fell, his face falling flat against the floor, he was still trying to crawl though like a snake in sand.
Then the efforts ceased and he stopped moving all together, his body became as limps as Miss Jefferson’s and the gun fell free from his hands, firing a shot into the glass of a parked car as it did so.
By the time I reached him he was gone.
A silver colored coupe was moving down the street quickly, it had a shot out window too. I ran after it but I lost it.
I slowed to a walking pace.
I watched a man park up his Ducati and cross the street and go into an organic café, I took off my Tuskegee motorcycle jacket and followed suit. As I stood at the counter and order my English breakfast tea and apple Danish I could hear sirens encroaching. I drank my tea and ate my pastry and order another tea.
After a while I walked back to my Triumph Triple Speed R, I rode past a scene in which an EMT was in attendance and few patrol cars and a weeping mother. I rode out to Great Neck, I liked to think out there, and I needed a plan of action.
doorman let me into the foyer area of the Hummingbird club which was a nice but somewhat ironic touch for an establishment like this. The clientele were main black, sometimes high rollers brought Hispanic girlfriends long because they could and no one would question it.
If you’d asked the cliental about history they would have waxed lyrical about past and present oppression and lack of opportunities and subjugation and so on and so forth. But put a Negro in a hat to open doors for other black people and they flocked to the place after dark.
I stood in the foyer and looked around it as though I were an art critic, I hadn’t made myself familiar with what the place was before it was the Hummingbird club but I was guessing an old ballroom or swanky cinema. There were etchings or moulds or friezes I was never sure of the right term, on the white walls. They had sailing ships, African animals, scenes from expeditions and original light fixtures. The lights, furniture and even the doors were art deco interpretations. It was a classy place for most occasions with a large auditorium that seated a few thousand, especially the newly rich who hadn’t quite migrated their music tastes to Bach and Chapin.
The faint smell of Davidoff Spice bomb wafted towards me.
“Can I help you?” said a man with the look of Morris Chestnut.
I assumed he was some kind of manager. The handsome man was dressed in silver dinner jacket with a white shirt and silver tie. His hair had recently been barbed and his face had been shaved by someone with a cut throat razor and a steady hand. He had the kind of face that would lead a drunk man to overconfidence and mistimed attempts to hit him.
“I'm her to see Marley One, he around?”
“The show is opening tomorrow, you need tickets?”
“I thought he might be practicing, you know rehearing.”
“You don’t look like one of his friends.”
“It’s okay, I know him. I'm not trying to get in his band, I don’t have a crush on him and I don’t have a demo tape.”
The manager didn’t come across as the kind of guy who revelled in rap music, I had him down as a more R’n’B type cat.
“He was in the bar lounge an hour ago, you might catch him. If not he’ll be in his guest room and you’ll have to call him.”
“Okay,” I said.
He pointed be towards the casual day restaurant and wondered off uninterested in me.
The room seated about two hundred people and was about a third full, but was still nice and warm in a cosy way and was well lit despite the approaching darkness outside. In keeping with the buildings theme it was art deco with prints of jazz musicians on the walls and piano on a slightly raised platform The music of the sound system was soft jazz and nineteen-thirties blues. I wasn’t sure if it was Billie holiday singing but it sounded an awful lot like her. While I think the lady sang the blues I looked around the room for Marley One. The room was set out with small round tables, not too close together. A couple of waiters flitted in between them.
I was wondering if this service was in place before the buyout when it occurred to me that all the black owned restaurants and clubs I’d been to before were relatively small affairs. Maybe like a lot of black owned businesses it was doomed to be bought out by a multinational and endure a little identity surgery so it became more appealing to a broader range of customers, like flavoured water.
I saw Marley One at a table in the far corner of the room, but I saw his date first.
She was gorgeous.
She looked like Noémie Lenoir and wore a pastel blue silk printed dress; around her neck she was wearing what might well have been a mink fur. Her eyes were a harsh green, sparking like polished jade and bored looking like they'd heard a story a million times and it wasn’t great the first.
She played with a glass on the table; every now and again she looked at Marley One and smiled as he went on confident she was having a goodtime.
As I approached the table he was laughing loudly, it wasn’t a pleasant sound. It was the kind of laugh that if you played it back he would deny the cackle belonged to him.
My approach caught his eye and turned with an annoyed expression for a waiter trying to interrupt him as he was getting his swerve on.
Then he pushed himself up from the table, pushed his chair back, crossed one arm across his torso and very theatrically used the other to rub his chin.
“Motherfucker,” he said flatly like it was my given name.
A man at a nearby table coughed in disapproval, but Marley didn’t care, he treated all places with the same level on contempt. A waiter who had been approaching thought better of it and rescinded into whatever shadow he could find. The model at the table leaned back in her chair and looked at us quizzically as if we were about to serenade her with a duet.
“I'm returning something to you that you lost at the hotel; I think it needs dealing with.”
I handed him the ransom note, he was still smiling until he read it. He crumpled it up and let it fall to the floor in front of his feet.
He took a step towards me and said loudly, “motherfucker I should have lit you up.”
The man at the nearest table spoke up now, “young man I would appreciate it if you did not use such profanity around my wife.”
The man was in his fifties and morbidly obese, his wife or gold digger was at least twenty-five years younger than him and into cardio and plastic surgery.
“Old man if I took your wife upstairs she’d be using worse language than that,” said Marley One. I wanted to laugh, but I stayed professional.
The man stood, his face sweating with embarrassment, his wife stood slowly. She grabbed her bag whilst looking at Marley One, he winked at her. The husband guided her away with his hand on her ass as a comforter. He’d probably bounce her on his lap in the Bentley or Limo on the way home to make himself feel better for her slight. Everyone was staring at us now; a waiter was walking after the departing couple at speed.
I was turning back to Marley One as he slammed a right hook into my jaw. I rolled with the punch so it stung more than anything, but I knocked over a glass on a table and turned to apologize to the couple at it. The coward Marley One hit me behind the back of the ear.
“What’s going on?” shouted the manager as he came running in.
That distracted me and Marley One crashed another first into my mouth.
That’s annoyed me.
He went for another shot, but I dodged and chopped him in the throat. He reeled back choking and for the two minutes he doubled over coughing and gagging I could have killed that little shit with an economy of movement that would have been frightening.
We all watched and waited.
“It wasn’t me,” I said.
His date was angry and stood to leave just like the fat guys wife, but she didn’t look like she fancied being bounced on anyone’s lap. Marley One smoothed out his denims and polo shirt and began to walk away towards the foyer, the manager put out a gentle arm to stop him but Marley One walked through it like it was fog.
His tall date put her bag down and her face softened. She dropped a handkerchief on the table and looked into my eyes before speaking quietly. “Your lips bleeding, I think you should clean it up before it messes up your nice shirt.” She had a deep voice for a woman, but not so deep that you’d mistake her for a man. It was almost as sexy as her like a Lauren Hill or Toni Braxton.
The manager’s face looked like thunder; he took me by the arm and put his weight on it. “Okay, you're times done, let’s go.”
It occurred to me that by now he should have called security; maybe they only hired it for events.
I planted my feet and stood still staring at the girl, she smiled, I smiled and dabbed my mouth with the handkerchief. The manager tried to move me, I didn’t move an inch. He could do this for an hour and my only movement might be to swat him away. He didn’t last an hour; instead he learnt fast and signalled over a couple of waiters for moral support because they didn’t touch me.
I felt my lip, it would swell, but not too badly, there wasn’t a lot of blood on the handkerchief. I turned to the people at the flooded table.
“I'm sorry about spoiling your meal, I lost my balance.”
They were a nice couple, by which I mean they were dressed a bit preppy, in their early twenties and probably voted for Obama.
The girl said, “no need to apologise, it wasn’t your fault.”
The two waiters suddenly grabbed my arms from behind, I was going to put out the knee on one and dislocate the elbow of the other, then go home and have a Corona and look for a job driving a bakery van when the manager shook his head. The two waiters who may have weighed the same as me combined escaped harm.
“You hit him,” the manager said.
“I gave him a three punch head start.”
“What did you say to him?”
“It’s true Phil, Marley likes to say hello in his own style,” said Marley One’s date.
The manager smile to himself.
“You seem to be looking at me like you want to roll; well I won’t be turning my back this time. You like you go gym, maybe do a bit of boxercise?”