In less than 1 minute, Roy Washington would witness a murder. He was parked on 122nd Street, slumped down in the back seat of his glistening, jet black, wide-bodied Mercedes sedan. The car was just 3 weeks old, a testament of success, however earned. And it gave the streets a message: this particular man came up . . . he scored, he’s winning. The streets were always watching cats like Roy Washington.
It was 9:30, early for a Friday night, when ballers, hustlers and players—Roy considered himself all of the above—were still deciding whether to live it up, or keep it on the low, play it small and intimate. This was what was on Roy’s mind just now; maybe he’d take Asondra downtown to The Five Spot to catch something jazzy . . . he could swing across the East River and show her off at SugarHill in Brooklyn, or at Manhattan Proper in Queens . . . or he could bring her pretty-ass uptown to Club Carib, the swanky spot in New Rochelle. But then, of course, there was always the usual circuit here in Harlem, The Rooftop, The Cotton Club, Perk’s or the Lenox Lounge. Roy let these ideas digest as he soaked into his soft, black-leather seats. There was more room to stretch out here in the back seat. And besides, the total impact of his dope hi-fi system touched him better back here. It was as if his car had become an intimate lounge in itself; a place for a man to think while he waited for his woman to get her hair done.
The Quiet Storm was pre-empted on Friday and Saturday nights so that the party music could butter up the minds of black folks, perhaps directing them to this club or that with those so-called “live broadcasts.” The infamous “live broadcast”; it could be a radio personality standing in the corner of a club, 4 or 5 early birds with him, all of them making noise into a cell phone to simulate a much larger crowd. Indeed, a larger crowd would inevitably come, lured in by that very charade they heard over the radio airwaves.
The tricks they play on the radio, Roy told himself, wishing he had a piece of that scam along with those of his own. He was inspired to change the mood and reached from his relaxed position to feed a CD into the sound system. You could never go wrong with Anita Baker’s Greatest Hits. And that was just the CD Roy picked. He liked how the mellow-voiced soulstress worked the scatting into the rhythm and blues.
He found himself intoxicated by the music, (the only right thing in his wayward world), and it had him almost slipping out of consciousness. His eyelids drooped shut in an effort to stock up on some sleep so that he’d be alert for the evening. He never could tell what might cross his path: there could be a new piece of ass he’d meet, or a fresh business prospect to pass a phone number to. There might even be an old enemy lurking. It was anybody’s guess what might come along. For this was Roy Washington’s life: plenty of pussy, plenty of loan-sharking to do, and plenty of enemies. It went with the territory of this jack-of-all-trades . . . someone who took those high risks. He didn’t care whose feet he stepped on, just as long as he got his way. Just as long as he got paid and laid, he had it made. And speaking of stepping on folks,
Damn, Asondra is taking forever up in there, thought Roy.
Up in there, was “Mya’s Place,” where Mya Fuller operated an exclusive salon from her home. Hers was a 3-story brownstone here on 122nd Street where certain clients came to get their hair did or their nails done for the weekend. Roy had been up in Mya’s Place a number of times in the past, for business, since she was one of his clients. But never did he have to go in there and make a scene, to reprimand Asondra for taking so long. Only now, he was swearing in his mind:
Women. Roy let out an exhaustive sigh. Such was the price of keeping a high-maintenance woman at his convenience. And Asondra was just that; keep her in diamonds, keep her going to Mya’s, stick a hard dick up in her, and she’d keep her mouth shut.
Roy smiled to himself at the idea of Asondra being his . . . of being what he wanted: a perfect lady out in public, and an absolute slut in the bed. She was street-smart and sharp when it came to looking the part, creating that all-important illusion for the world to see. But Asondra could be a bitch, too. A devil. And that’s when Roy had to put his foot down. He’d have to check her. It might take a good slap across her face, or he’d be extra rough with her in bed, just to remind her of who the big dog was . . . who was in charge around here. Tonight, Roy decided, as soon as Asondra came out of Mya’s Place, he would let her have it. That was the problem with pretty bitches like Asondra. Let her get the best of you, even a little bit, and it was too far. Tomorrow she’d try to get away with something else. Hell no.
In his mind, Roy could see the whole picture: Asondra would hop in the passenger’s seat and say, “You like?” All smiles and cheer casted at him.
And Roy would answer, “Come-eer you pretty motha-fucka . . .” Asondra would quickly turn soft, her eyes half-closed in a sexy leer since he was surely referring to her. That’s when Roy would flip on her, he’d grab her face and squeeze her cheeks together with his large, boney hand. Her face would be contorted with her eyes searching his. Then, while in total control, he’d say,
“Bitch, if you ever keep me waiting like that again, I’ll slap the shit outta you. Got me?”
Asondra would nod as best as she could within his grip.
Then Roy would say, “. . . Now put your tongue in my mouth,” just to make things all lovey-dovey again. This was how it went between Roy and Asondra. This was the way it would always be while Roy Washington, the womanizer, slash, Mack Daddy, slash, loan shark, had his way.
There was the sound of squeaking brakes that interrupted Anita’s CD just as it was preparing for her next song. The unfriendly noise belonged to a yellow cab that stopped in close proximity to the Mercedes. All of this was captured within Roy’s sleepy gaze. And furthermore, the cab was so outrageously bright against the night and the line of dark brownstones across the street.
There were no streetlights on 122nd, just another dark, dismal, haunting atmosphere that defined the reality of Harlem’s mean and hungry jaws.
A man stepped out from the rear of the cab, exposing Roy to the inside, where the passenger had already paid the driver. The cab pulled away, leaving its exhaust to waft in the air, and its 6-foot-tall passenger squeezed between Roy’s car and the one in front. The man’s face showed itself in that fleeting instant, despite the tint of the Mercedes windshield. He had a ponytail, a mustache and goatee shadowing his redbone skin.
Stepping onto the sidewalk, he seemed to curse himself as he looked down and wiped himself off. So Roy guessed right, that the guy got some of that snow and dirt mixture on his pants and shoes and whatnot. Roy sighed and resumed his dream.
Sleepy head wasn’t the only one out there on 122nd Street. Neither was the man who disembarked from the taxicab. Reginald “Push” Jackson was waiting, out of sight, packing an automatic firearm, carrying on with his own inner dialogue.
There he is. Raphael, the snake. Right out in the open. No time to think. Just do it. Get it over with. He’ll never put his hands on my sister again. Or anyone, if Push could help it.
And just like that, it happened. Push moved like a scorching flame or a deep freeze—both of those sensations pulling at his senses as well as guiding him; creating that rush . . . that motivation. And then, of course, there was that bitter taste in his mouth from the aspirins he chewed on, the reminder that he could always turn to. A reminder that wouldn’t let him forget the horrors of his past.
It took seconds for Push to launch his attack.
Roy couldn’t believe his eyes. He wondered if he was seeing things and maybe the sun block tint on his passenger’s side window was playing tricks on his mind.
It was as if a shadow appeared. A lean, caped shadow sweeping out from the dark belly of the brownstone; down there under the steps where garbage cans were usually kept.
Slouched low in his seat, Roy looked on with total awe as the predator shot out and faced a very surprised man. His arm swung around, gun in hand, until the weapon was pointed and locked on the taller man’s forehead. There were no words between the two. Nothing to discuss. There was simply that flash fire from the weapon. The victim jerked backwards into his final fall against the snowy pavement. All of this taking place mere feet from the Mercedes and turning the iridescent white landscape into a blood-soaked Mister Frosty.
The shooter in all black, including the knitted cap and combat boots, stepped over the body and calmly pumped another bullet into the skull as if to be sure the job was done. With wickedly precise timing, after the corpse shook from the violent impact, the killer pivoted off and strolled westward on 122nd street.
“Shit!” exclaimed Roy. Looking out at the ground, then his side view mirror, then at the victim again. Roy was suddenly struck with a sense of permanence . . . of finality. His mind’s eye and thumping heart were jointly reaching towards the masterful executioner who was becoming more of a memory with every westward step. Roy was already climbing into the front seat, magnetized and needing to know more about that man. That cold killer.
He still had time. So far as Roy could tell, the guy hadn’t even reached Lenox Avenue as yet. Careful not to cause any more of a scene, he wiggled the Mercedes out of its parking space, out of the slush and eastward on 122nd, a one way street with a single lane. If he was aggressive enough he could shoot down to 5th Ave, where Mt. Morris Park was, then cut over to 121st Street and hustle up Lenox.
It wasn’t like he wanted to meet the guy; just follow him and find out who he was. No congratulations or handshakes. If anything, Roy might manage to bump into him, (a big might) and he would do so as lightheartedly as he could; as though he didn’t just watch this guy snuff out a man’s life just minutes earlier.
Roy picked up his car phone and punched in Mya’s number.
“Mya, it’s Roy. Put Asondra on,” he said, too wired up with too much of a blurred sense of direction to be polite or cordial.
“Sure, darling,” Mya answered, likely too busy with her hands in somebody’s hair to address his crass introduction. Roy heard Mya giving instructions to a subordinate and could picture the handset being passed on. It sounded as if Asondra had to take the call with her head half-under the hairdryer. Meanwhile, a radio was pumping Barry White in the atmosphere along with some hyper female radio personality.
Roy was like a fish in a fishbowl, extra-sensitive to every sight and sound. They must be so busy they don’t have a clue about what happened out in front of the brownstone.
“Baby? I’ll be another ten minutes or so. I’m drying—”
“Hey listen,” Roy said, cutting Asondra’s excuse short. “Something came up. I might be late gettin’ over there. Keep in touch by my cell phone. Worst case, take a cab to the crib.” The idea of the “cab” suddenly hit him. Hadn’t he just seen what happens to folks who get out of cabs on dark streets?
“Everything alright?” Asondra asked.
“Why wouldn’t it be? Talk to you in a few,” Roy ended the call too abruptly to respond to Asondra’s kiss. He was on l2lst now, carefully approaching the stoplight at Lenox. The Mercedes crawled to a stop, close enough to the edge of the block for him to scope out the sidewalk. There were just a few pedestrians between 121st and 122nd, among them two shapely women, so bold to have their calves and thighs exposed in such frigid weather. There was a panhandler in dark, woolen clothing, with hands and fingers exposed where his mittens were ripped. Meanwhile, the proprietor of a barbershop there on Lenox, between 122nd and 123rd, was pulling down his metal gate for the night.
Roy simply waited there observing all of this while the traffic light changed a 2nd time. He eventually made the turn onto Lenox allowing the car to crawl until he recognized that same dark shadow.
It was him. Roy was sure of it. And it was a great relief to see that the killer wasn’t looking his way.
Halfway between 124th and 125th streets, a taxi pulled up to the curb to let off a party of three. They scurried across the sidewalk and into the Lenox Lounge somewhat cowering from the cold. As if to read the guy’s mind, Roy assumed that the killer would hop into that same cab and disappear into the night. At least, that’s what he would’ve done. But that’s not what he did. The man slipped in the door of the lounge right behind the others, he even helped hold open the door for them.
Roy’s mind was volleying thoughts.
Just a few blocks away he took a man’s life . . . smoked ’em without even blinking. And now he wants a drink?
There was no getting enough of the impression that this guy projected. How cool, calm and collected, to so casually transform himself into a clubgoer. A courteous one, nonetheless.
Spinning his steering wheel and navigating the Mercedes into a parking space close to the corner of 124th, Roy was twisted between both fear and curiosity. He had no idea why he was doing this.
Yes, he did. There was no fooling himself about something so obvious. What it was, was that Roy never had such heart. He could never be the violent beast . . . the extraordinarily smooth operator this stranger was just minutes earlier. This guy was that type of man who men such as Roy wanted to be like, dreamed and craved about it even. To just rub elbows with a man like this; maybe they would get to know each other better. Maybe some of those superpowers would change hands.
And because a man didn’t mind imposing violence or shooting a gun didn’t necessarily mean he had heart. It was just that certain something that a person like Roy—slick-ass, fast-talkin’ coward that he was—was attracted to. A man with heart. A man with the courage and a strong will, who could carry out such a significant feat, And when it came to significant feats, taking another man’s life was certainly a top contender.
Inhale . . . exhale . . .
Roy stuck his cell phone under the car seat and grabbed his leather pouch where he kept his black book, a 2nd cell phone and a pen. There were also some business cards in a rubber band:
Under his name was his Harlem phone number (a voicemail) and there was also a dollar sign. Roy Washington, jack of all trades.
Copyright © 2001 by Relentless Aaron. All rights reserved.