Mirror Image

Ice-T

Forge Books

1
 

Crush Casey had been up for hours; sometimes sleep didn’t come easy, and this was one of those times. Today would have been Antonio’s twenty-eighth birthday, and that thought had kept him tossing and turning all night. It was hard to imagine his boy being twenty-eight. In Casey’s mind, Antonio would always be frozen in time as the sixteen-year-old who had visited him that last time in prison. On top of that, it was a month since Casey had visited his son’s grave—’bout thirty days too long, far as he was concerned—and this morning, he was gonna make it right.
He glanced over at Carla, sleeping soundly next to him, a peaceful look on her face. She was a beautiful woman who understood him better than most—hell, maybe better than himself sometimes. Casey tried to be stealthy as he slipped out of bed like he was making an escape, hoping not to wake her, but he wasn’t smooth enough to make it work.
“Morning, baby,” Carla said in a sleepy, honeyed voice.
He leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. “It’s early, baby. Go back to sleep.”
It was too late, though; she was already up, and asked where he was going. Usually Casey admired how quick Carla’s mind worked in the morning, but today it was a definite drag. He thought of making up a story, but even as he hesitated, he knew he’d have to come clean.
Casey dropped a shoulder at the door. “I’ma go see Antonio, it’s been a minute.”
He watched her examine his face, searching for a clue as to what his temperature might be, but it was pointless. She nodded and quickly jumped out of bed. “Okay, it won’t take but a hot second for me to get ready. You want a quick breakfast?”
Casey had hoped to do this visit solo, but didn’t care enough to open up a can of worms over it. “Just coffee, baby. I wanna bounce in twenty.”
Exactly nineteen minutes later, they hit the road in Casey’s black Escalade. The streets were quiet that early on a Sunday morning. New York, the city that never sleeps, was at least taking a break on God’s day before revving up to do it all over again.
It was about an hour’s drive to the graveyard, and Casey was silent for most of it. Carla was quiet, too, letting him contemplate. He appreciated that—her giving him space to do what he had to do was a big part of their relationship, and she knew it well.
As they crossed the bridge to Long Island, Casey reflected on his life and did a mental inventory of all the players in it, past and present. He was glad to reconnect with Champa Muñoz; he knew that, above everyone else, the man had his back and would always be straight up. They had been friends ever since they met at juvie, when they were twelve years old. Shinzo Becker was also a down brotha; he’d proved his loyalty on the battlefield when they forced the final showdown with his backstabbing ex-partner Gulliver Rono.
He thought of Rono, his former right-hand man, who’d betrayed him and got him sent to Attica for twenty years. In the end, that bastard had gotten his in spades, but nothing could pay back the twenty years behind bars and the loss of Casey’s son. He wondered what had turned Gulliver out and made him a snitch and a sucka—he could understand if Rono had wanted to kill him so that he could take over the Kings, but to cut a deal with the feds—that was a real bitch move. Under his breath, Casey said, “Fuck ’em, who cares.” Carla glanced at him and he shook his head so she left it alone. Casey changed lanes and went back into his head again.
Then there was the woman in his life. Casey couldn’t help smiling as he stole a glance at Carla: even in just tight jeans and a T-shirt, she looked amazing. She was one bad bitch—a wildcat in the sack, whose body was a magnet he simply couldn’t resist. Along with her brainpower, she was also a mind reader who knew how to interpret his vibe and act accordingly. That didn’t mean she wasn’t also a bit of work, however. But the fact remained that Carla was the first woman since Danielle, Antonio’s mother, whom he felt he really connected with. It was a different relationship, though—it was more complete, more multidimensional … a result of his age and time. He recalled Mack D, his guru in the joint, speaking on relationships once: “Look here, nigga, when a woman meets a man, it’s always the right time, and only when it’s the right time will a man meet the right woman, you dig?”
Lately, however, there’d been a bit of a hiccup in paradise. Casey knew Carla wanted a baby—the hints she’d been dropping were becoming less subtle with each passing day—and that conversation was gonna make them or break them. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her, or that he had a problem with kids—quite the opposite. He just knew his lifestyle—leader of the most powerful gang in NYC—wasn’t conducive to babies and all that domestic shit, because everyone knew a gangsta’s biggest weakness was his seed.
The truth was, when Antonio was murdered, he’d ’bout lost his mind over it, and going through that shit again was not an option. He remembered how he’d transformed that pain into anger in the joint, and how he went to sleep having dreams of literally tearing Rono apart, limb by muthafuckin’ limb. He was on the short road to insanity till Mack D had gotten him straight.
In Attica, you either had enemies or allies, but Mack D was different. He was the father figure Casey’d never had, a man with an impressive criminal pedigree and a profound intellect that made him untouchable. He was also a master communicator who always had everyone’s attention. Mack had transcended the yard and gang bullshit and figured out more than most. He was a true samurai warrior, Buddhist monk, and Goldie from The Mack all rolled into one. He’d seen Casey through the ups and downs of prison life, got him to get his head on straight and start using his brains instead of his fists to not only survive in Attica, but make plans for what was gonna go down after he got out.
Then there was Lomax, his fat-assed, wise-crackin’ parole officer, whose little hints had led Casey to breaking the back of his former gang, the Vicetown Kings, and killing his betrayer, Gulliver Rono, by chocking the life out of his betrayin’ ass. Casey couldn’t figure out Lomax: On one hand, he’d serendipitously helped him with his Rono beef without batting an eye. Course, that might have been due to the fact that Casey had a hand in destroying two other gangs on that blood-soaked night in Parkenbush. On the other, he’d also let Casey know—in his own delicate way—that he had the man’s Saint Jude’s medal that could get him indicted for the murder and mayhem of the VK and Rono drama. But over the last three months, Lomax hadn’t jerked his chain once.
That bit with his medal irked Casey—typical po-po bullshit. The nigga could have given him back his shit, but instead, he was using it as not-so-subtle blackmail. The Saint Jude’s medal was a gift from Antonio’s mother, a link to his past that now was choking him. He knew Lomax had an agenda, and Casey was a part of it whether he liked it or not. At the moment, it looked like their mutual interests jibed, but the second they didn’t, that was when he knew the shit would get critical, and hey, there was no way Casey was ever going back to the joint. He was out for good, be it alive or dead!
He thought about that final showdown with Rono, and how he was able to unleash the fury inside him and choke the life out of that double-crossin’ nigga with only his bare hands. He had enjoyed staring into the chump’s panicked eyes as his life was snuffed out. At that moment, he’d lost all concern for his own well-being and was solely focused on retribution. It was only a brief moment of sweet satisfaction, though; his killing of Rono was just a temporary fix from the pain of losing his son. He could have exterminated that sonofabitch every single day for a thousand years and it still wouldn’t make things right, but it was something that needed to be done.
As he drove and replayed that night in his mind, he gripped the steering wheel like he had Rono’s flabby neck in his fingers again. It wasn’t until Carla put her hand on his shoulder that he relaxed up, and blew a breath out as he tried to calm down.
“You okay, baby? It’s the next exit, right?”
“Huh, yeah. Just—just thinkin’ on some things, thasall. Ain’t no thang.”
Carla returned her gaze to the streets around them. Casey scowled, annoyed that he’d put his shit out there like that. He was back on top—the undisputed leader of the Vicetown Kings, and head of a gang syndicate that covered most of the city. He should have been on top of the muthafuckin’ world … but he wasn’t.
Coming up on the exit for the Washington Memorial Park Cemetery, Casey pumped his brakes and eased the SUV down the off-ramp. They drove for a few more minutes, and pulled up at the majestic gates of the home of the dead. When Casey first heard about Antonio’s death, he’d reached out to Champa and had him make sure that his son was laid to rest someplace remote and peaceful. The cemetery looked like a park: lush, green, and very quiet. There were no headstones, only markers set into the ground on the rolling hills.
Casey drove through the maze of streets with their corny names—Path to Light Drive, Court of Freedom, Sanctuary of Heritage Way—and felt his stomach roil and churn the farther they went. When they reached Antonio’s location, he pulled over, turned off the car, and just sat there, in contemplation. It was absolutely silent; the graveyard was empty at this hour. Not even a birdcall broke the stillness. Casey lifted his head and looked around—he’d put a lot of muthafuckas in the dirt over the years, and wondered how many of them were buried in this field.
Casey and Carla got out of the car together, but Casey—anxious, angry, and grief-stricken—walked ahead up to Antonio’s plot. The grass was still wet as he ascended the hill. When he got to Antonio’s resting place, a simple stone marker, he looked down and squeezed his fists tightly and drew in a startled breath. He felt Carla come up behind him and saw her react to the strange, dark look on his face. It was an expression of pure, bottled rage. She stepped next to him and looked down at Antonio’s granite grave marker. On the bottom corner was the reason for Casey’s fury—scratched crudely into the stone in inch-high block letters were the words FUCK YOU CRUSH.
Carla took a quick intake of breath as Casey suddenly turned, took her arm, and through clenched teeth said, “Let’s go.” As they headed to the car, he tried to ease his grip on Carla’s arm, mindful of the fact that he felt like breaking something, smashing anything and everything he could get his hands on.
They got in the car and Casey slammed his door shut, then screamed a bloodcurdling, “Fuck, motherfucker, let me catch the muthafucka that did this shit!” at the top of his lungs. Striking his large fists over and over into the Caddy’s ceiling, he pounded the cloth and metal hard enough to rock the entire SUV.
Carla was visibly shaken; he knew she’d never seen him this angry and hurt before. Her body language showed that she was too scared to say anything, and scared to death that he might accidentally hit her. She pushed herself into the corner of the car, trembling with quiet sobs, her face in her hands.
A faraway part of Crush screamed that he needed to get himself under control, but it was lost in the tidal wave of ferocity crashing over him. He wanted blood, goddamnit, he wanted revenge! He wanted to find the muthafucka who did this and torture his ass until he cried to be murdered. He squeezed his fists tight around the steering wheel and gritted his teeth as he rapidly took deep breaths, trying to get a grip on his emotions.
Casey tamped down his rage long enough to search his mind for who would dare to do this, and how he would exact his vengeance. His mind was like a computer running through scenarios and options on how to get the muthafucka. Was it one of Rono’s former men fuckin’ with him? Was it someone else that had a beef with him and this was their clever way of calling him out? Was it the cops or maybe someone who he thought was a friend? He knew he’d probably never find out, and that made him even more angry. His instinct was to go to the cemetery’s caretaker and do whatever it took to get some answers, but that was when he noticed Carla hugging herself as she sobbed and hitched in a breath, tears running down her cheeks. Oh, shit.
“Carla.”
She flinched at hearing her own name, and looked at him with fearful eyes. Now she knows what kind of monster I really am, he thought. He took another deep breath, steadying himself, and turned to her again.
In a low, calm voice, he said, “Look … better you found this out sooner rather than later. This is who I am, this type of hate is what I inspire. My son paid the price for that, and many around me have paid it as well,” he said as he looked away from her. Then he quietly said, “I can’t change that or my past.” Casey wanted to comfort her, but he held back, not entirely sure of how she’d react and also not wanting to be even more vulnerable than he already was.
Carla wiped her eyes and reached out to put her hand on his shoulder. Her touch calmed him even further, like it usually did. “I can handle it, I … just can’t … imagine what kind of person would do that.”
Casey looked at her and nodded his head once more. “There’s a lotta cats out there that have good reason to hate or fear me. This is a small way for some punk-ass nigga to get some satisfaction without comin’ at me straight up.”
“I’m sorry, baby,” Carla said.
“Yeah, well … it is what it is, and I can’t do shit about it,” Casey replied. He looked past her and out her window in the direction of Antonio’s plot and paused. Once again, his actions had impacted his son. He looked down and exhaled, as grief and regret consumed him. Sorry, son, for this and everything else. He turned over the engine and they headed home in silence, with him staring out the windshield at everything and nothing. On Monday, he would call the cemetery and have them remove the marker and not replace it, leaving Antonio’s grave unmarked. He wouldn’t let his son be used again, either to pay for his sins or as a pawn to get to him.
An hour later, as they pulled back into the city, Casey’s cell rang. It was Champa. He let it go to voice mail; he was in no mood to talk business. As soon as the ringtone stopped, it rang again; Champa again.
Fuck. Casey picked it up. “Yeah?”
“Hey, what’s up, player? I heard they got a pickup game in the Bronx at two. You wanna go show these fools how it’s done?”
Translation: Two of our guys just got busted in the Bronx for slanging dope and we need to spring ’em.
Casey gripped the phone so hard, the plastic case creaked under the strain. The shit never stops.
“A’ight, sounds good, we’ll give those youngsters a ten-point advantage so it’s interesting.”
Translation: What’s the bail amount, ten Gs?
“Shit, nigga, for it to be interesting, they need fifteen points. Anyway, I’ll grab a bite and meet you there.”
Translation: Bail is fifteen Gs, and I’ll get a lawyer on it.
Carla looked puzzled as Casey hung up the phone. He figured she knew there was no basketball game and knew to let well enough alone.

 
Copyright © 2013 by Ice Touring Inc.