Kiss the Ring
1 Four months later
“Don’t die today, motherfucker.”
Steely brown eyes were all that showed through the ski mask as the barrel of the gun was pressed against the fleshy cheek of the bank’s lone security guard. His eyes were filled with fear, shifting to the left to try to view the holder of the gun.
He immediately did, and raised both of his pudgy hands up into the air without being requested.
“Good boy,” the assailant mocked in a throaty male voice, pressing the gun deeper into the guard’s cheek until the soft tissue dimpled.
Don’t die today.
Three others dressed all in black with the same ski masks took their positions around the small bank. Number One, Bastian “Bas” Jones, stood by the glass door poised with a gloved hand on the 9mm still resting in the leather holster. Number Two, Nelson Hunter, quickly walked across the small foyer of the bank and raised the handgun to point
in the air between the shoulders of the two tellers on duty. And Number Three, Jamal “Red” Manning, stood beneath the surveillance camera with an AK-15 sniper rifle pointed in the vicinity of the few bank customers unlucky enough to be in line.
And I’m Number Four.
It was most definitely a holdup and everyone in the bank was clear about that. Surprisingly, no one screamed.
Nobody move. Nobody get hurt.
“Countdown! Let’s go,” Bas shouted loudly, a stopwatch in his gloved hand.
“Get your asses on the floor,” Red demanded in a hard, take-no-shit voice and eyed each one with a glare.
The elderly man who looked like he was ready to head right back to a life of leisure in his recliner before the television set.
The middle-aged woman dressed like a teacher running errands on a brief break.
And the young black girl still in her Dunkin’ Donuts uniform probably wishing she had waited to cash her check.
Their morning run to the small South Orange bank with the stone exterior and warm decor just got fucked all the way up. All. The. Way.
“May God forgive you,” the woman suddenly cried out in a high-pitched voice.
Red moved forward and used one strong grasp to lift the barrel of the assault rifle high enough to ease it between her thin crimson-painted lips. “Bitch, you want to ask him about it face-to-face?” he asked, his voice mocking but his eyes all too serious.
Uh-oh. Shit just got real as hell.
In the midst of the silence of the bank, the sound of her swallowing over a lump in her throat echoed like a bomb blasting off. Her pale blue eyes widened as tears pooled in them before they raced down her wobbling cheeks and her entire body shook in fear. Her moment of foolish bravado was gone.
Red bent his head to the side and then cocked the gun. The boldness, defiance, and daring in his eyes could not be hidden.
She whimpered and then passed out, falling to the floor as if she lacked any bones in her frame. Red roughly snatched his boot from beneath her body before backing away as the others looked up at him from their spots stretched out on the white tiled floor. He obviously gave zero fucks about her and whether she was passed out or dead. Zero fucks.
Red is not the motherfucker to test.
“Countdown. Number Two . . . let’s go,” Bas shouted loudly. “Number Four . . . handle that!”
The orders were clear.
“Get low, Rent-A-Cop.” The gun was shifted from the guard’s fleshy cheek to the back of his unkempt head as brown eyes quickly shifted to take in Nelson tossing the leather duffel bag over the counter to the tellers.
“Empty all the cash drawers. Make it happen,” Nelson snapped, shifting the gun to point in a direct line on one teller’s heart and then the other’s as they quickly scrambled to grab and then shove all the cash from the drawers into the duffel bag.
The security guard was still frozen on his knees.
“Please don’t shoot,” he begged, in a voice filled with his worries.
He finally pressed his rotund belly against the cool tiles as he lay flat.
There was no denying the highly charged energy pulsating in the air. Nervous gestures. Tears. Whimpers. Prayers.
“Thirty seconds,” Bas called out, his slanted eyes seeming even brighter against the blackness of the mask.
The energy shifted again and crackled in the air like white noise.
“Hurry the fuck up,” Nelson snapped at the tellers, turning his hand sideways to twist the gun in the air.
It was one of those moments when anything could happen at any moment. Any fucking thing.
“Twenty seconds.” Bas stepped his tall figure back and roughly pushed the glass door of the bank wide open.
The pale redheaded male teller pushed the bag over to the black female teller with short dreads that needed more growth if she didn’t want to look like she was being electrocuted. She bit her bottom lip as she hoisted the bag up to pass over the counter. It suddenly tumbled over the edge and fell to the floor with a THUD.
Everybody froze and the air seemed to be sucked from the room.
Nelson looked down at the bag and then up at the teller as his wrist snapped and the barrel of the gun jerked up. He cocked it.
She cried out and took a step back. “Please,” she begged, her eyes pooling with tears as she raised her hands and covered her face with splayed fingers.
Everything about the stance of his body said he was fighting not to put a bullet in her.
“Get the fucking bag and let’s go, Number Two,” Bas said in a hard voice.
And just like that the tension left his rotund body as he did just that and turned to run through the open door.
“Number Three . . . OUT!”
Red held the AK-15 steady as he quickly backed his large, muscular frame out the door.
“Number Four . . . OUT! Let’s go.”
With one last glance at the scared faces peering up from the floor and then down at the guard, there was nothing to do but walk backward out the door before turning to round the corner of the bank building. A white, battered Lincoln Continental awaited them.
It looked like a shitty getaway car but the motor underneath the jagged hood purred like a kitten. Kenney “Hammer” Charles, the final masked man behind the wheel, made sure of that.
Let’s get the fuck outta here!
“Come on, Bas,” Hammer said, his gloved hands tightly gripping the steering wheel as he leaned forward to peer through the windshield.
His voice was filled with the nerves, urgency, and adrenaline they all felt as the last of their crew—the leader of their crew, Bas—finally came running around the corner of
the bank to slide into the front passenger seat of the car. He barely slammed the heavy door shut before the Continental accelerated forward with a peel of the tires against the street.
Hammer sped the vehicle through the normally serene suburban streets of South Orange township at high and furious speed. They had just sharply turned the corner leading into a short tunnel as the whir of police sirens sounded in the distance.
Everyone glanced over their shoulder or checked side-view mirrors.
“Shit,” someone swore.
A lone police car was closing the three-block gap between them. It was clear—and expected—that one of the tellers had sounded the silent alarm to alert the police to the holdup.
Fuck this shit.
“I ain’t in the fucking mood,” Bas said, the husky tone of his voice more evident when he spoke normally and wasn’t yelling out commands. With his mask still in place he checked his 9mm before lowering the window to point it back behind them.
No the fuck he ain’t . . .
“Yo . . . chill, Bas,” Hammer insisted, reaching over to grip his wrist. “Not yet. I got this, son.”
The gun stayed pointed out the window, aimed and ready to fire, Bas’s finger still on the trigger even as he gazed down at Hammer’s hand with hard eyes. Eyes that shifted up to lock on his friend’s profile in the mask.
Everyone in the car froze.
What the fuck?
Hammer instantly slid his hand off Bas and back onto the steering wheel.
THIS motherfucker just blasted off without even looking to see where the bullets might land. Hurt. Destroy. Injure. Kill.
Yes the fuck he did.
Again everyone checked over their shoulders or in the mirrors as hearts pounded and the sweat of fear filled the small confined space. The police car was still on their asses even with the front windshield shattered by Bas’s bullets.
Hammer turned a corner sharply and the wheels burned black streaks on the brick paved roads. He swerved suddenly to miss a woman pushing a stroller across the street. They could still hear her high-pitched scream as he left the outskirts of South Orange and entered the city limits of Newark through its Ivy Hill section.
The flash and blare of sirens were still close behind them, almost overpowering the sounds of early summer.
“Let’s go, Hammer,” Red shouted, pounding his gloved fist against the back of the front seat.
He screamed the words they all felt as their hearts pounded and their pulses raced even faster than the car. Nearly all.
Bas calmly kept his slanted eyes on the rearview mirror, his body relaxed in the seat as he tapped his gun against his knee. “Go up two lights and make a right,” he said, his voice just as steady and sure as the hand ready to fire off another round. “Get off these main avenues.”
Hammer deftly followed Bas’s commands until they
finally reached a one-way street devoid of homes or traffic. He was able to open up the car and zoom ahead, steadily increasing the distance between them and the police. They knew the streets of the Brick City and used that knowledge to their full advantage, taking small side streets and shortcuts from one street to the next via openings where homes once sat. Soon the police were left behind to wonder where their prey disappeared.
Hammer slowed the car as the sounds of sirens completely faded. His shoulders and his stance in the seat relaxed a little. Shit was less tense. Less on the edge.
They did the crime but no one gave a fuck about doing the time.
Even without the presence of the police on their necks, no one said shit and the silence inside the vehicle was deafening. Everyone was lost in their thoughts. How to spend the money they just stole? How long before they were caught? What would the news say about them? When was the next bank robbery?
Would they make it out alive the next time?
Time? Fuck that.
We just robbed a bank. I just helped rob a bank.
Hammer drove the streets at a much less noticeable speed but he still was taking no shorts in getting them to the spot. He slowed down as he neared an old garage attached to a two-story abandoned brick church with its stained glass windows covered with sheets of wood. One push of the remote clipped to the sun visor and the door lifted for him to drive inside.
It wasn’t until he put the car in park and closed the garage door that they finally removed their black masks and climbed from the vehicle. Seconds later the almost indiscernible “click” of the generator sounded before the overhead light illuminated the windowless garage. The machine hummed loudly as it provided the electricity they wouldn’t dare request from PSEG.
The garage smelled damp and musty and was just big enough to house the Lincoln and a large metal cabinet. In silence they quickly removed their gear, knowing they were leaving it all behind to be used again.
Nelson’s bright eyes gleamed from his deep chocolate complexion as he moved his short, thick figure forward to toss the leather duffel bag at Bas. “I’m guessing ain’t shit but ’bout ten grand,” he said, wiping the sweat beading around the edge of his short ’fro, and not looking anything more than his nineteen years of age.
Bas caught it easily with one hand before tossing it onto the hood of the Lincoln. “We made better time and better money in Uniondale a couple of months ago,” he said, unzipping the black all-in-one jumpsuit they all wore. He stepped out of it and tossed it onto the floor by the rear tire of the car to stand in his Ralph Lauren orange V-neck T-shirt and khaki shorts. He had a deep brown complexion that was smoother than melted chocolate, tall and thin in build but short as fuck in temper. Bas was just in his mid-twenties but his willingness to get physical was legendary. When something sparked off his anger it was crucial as hell. He appeared to be laid back and cool-headed, but to anyone who knew him—or knew of him—it was clear that could all change in a heartbeat.
Red’s mask, gloves, and uniform fell onto the pile next. He stretched every firm muscle in his brick-house frame and then flexed his thick neck. “I did my part to keep shit straight,” he said, his voice like rocks being crushed, and wiped his large hands over his bald head. His imposing build, jagged scar across his forehead, and the words KILLA tatted across the back of his shiny head left little doubt that he stayed ready to fuck shit up. Just one word or the right look from Bas and someone was completely dealt with. No questions asked.
“Congrats for not knocking that old lady the fuck out,” Bas said.
“That woulda most definitely kept shit . . . less than straight, son,” Hammer said, walking up to drop his things onto the growing pile on the concrete floor as well. He turned to check out his reflection in one of the car’s windows. Hammer was caramel fine and knew it. He slung his dick like he was scared to lose it. He had enough women—and kids—to prove he put all of his fine-ass looks to use.
Red didn’t laugh and the side-eye he gave Hammer made clear he wasn’t in the mood to.
“And Nelson, you gotta check your fucking temper,” Bas said, turning to unlock the metal cabinet and remove one of the three money-counting machines on the lowest shelf.
“I got you, Bas,” Nelson said, gathering up all the guns to carefully place on the empty shelves of the cabinet.
“You better,” he said in a cold voice, cutting his serious eyes up from loading the machine to lock on the youngest member of their crew.
Nelson nodded, shifting his eyes away from Bas while he gathered up the pile and jammed everything into a huge
garbage bag. It was clear as day that Bas’s approval meant a lot to him.
“And you did a’ight for your one and only ride,” Bas said, his cool eyes warming as he came over to stand before the last person in the garage.
“One and only is right,” said a male voice, as the black jumpsuit was unzipped to reveal a shapely body that was pure curves in a black form-fitting catsuit. Solid. Thick. Undeniably female. With a smile, she pulled off the ski mask and the hands-free voice changer she wore, and reached up to stroke the side of his square and handsome face. “A dare is a dare. I told you I could handle that shit,” she said.
Bas smiled and eased one strong arm around her waist to pull her body close before bending his head a bit to taste her mouth. His hand dipped down to slap and then squeeze one of her plush ass cheeks as his tongue flickered against the tip of hers. “Don’t start something you know you not ready to finish, Queen.”
The other men all groaned in annoyance.
“I wish y’all would just fuck already,” one of them said.
Bas chuckled before giving her another slap on the ass, then moved back across the small space to place rubber bands around the money. “Twelve lousy grand,” he said, tossing the money back into the bag.
He never split up the take from the bank. He used money from his own stash that had already been laundered to make sure the chances of the stolen cash being traced back to them were lessened. He was most definitely the leader and the brains of the Make Money Crew, and everyone in the group respected that and played their own positions well.
Bas held the duffel in one hand and locked the cabinet
with the other as everyone filed out of the garage by the side door leading directly into the church’s basement, where the kitchen had been housed. Queen slowed her steps and glanced back over her shoulder just as Bas snorted a bump of coke from the side of his hand. His sniffs echoed loudly in the quiet just before he cleared his throat.
She turned and rushed from the kitchen and then down the hall to where dimly lit steps led up to the vestibule of the sanctuary. No part of her enjoyed being in his presence when he was high. Over the last couple of months she’d watched him go from cool, calm, and collected to a short-tempered, not-to-be-slept-on ninja after just a line of that shit. Protect your neck and keep your back knife-free if he dared to do two. Thank God he was just on the recreational level.
She looked around at the abandoned space, which retained hints of its former beauty in the aged woodwork. Twenty years ago the church had been vibrant and beautiful. Now it was just a shell of its former self surrounded by waist-high weeds and bushes, the stained glass windows covered by boards and the gleam of the cherry wood dulled by dust and neglect.
The hangout of a band of thieves and bank robbers.
She still couldn’t believe she had convinced Bas to let her go along with them on the robbery. She had been scared shitless the entire time but it had been important to gain their trust. Plus she felt like she needed to see it all go down. She needed to learn more about the people she’d moved among for the last two months. Details about them were vital. Important. Necessary as hell.
She looked through the diamond-shaped window panes on the wooden doors leading into the sanctuary. Her catshaped
eyes rested on each person. Nelson stretched out on the front pew. Hammer lounging in the pulpit on his cell phone. Red was doing sit-ups on the floor in front of the leaning collection table.
Her gaze shifted as the door behind the pulpit, leading directly back down a set of stairs to the office in the basement, opened. Bas walked through it carrying stacks of money in his hand, each held together with a rubber band. He had swapped the cash for the money he kept in the office in a huge locked safe for which only he had both the key and the combination.
She looked on with squinted eyes as he tossed each wad to the men. She looked from one to the other over and over again, feeling the heat of hatred burn her stomach until she could retch. Bas, Hammer, Nelson, and Red. Bas. Hammer. Nelson. Red.
She made a fist so tight that her nails pinched the flesh of her palm. Her hatred for them nearly choked her. One of them had killed her teenage son and left him for dead in the streets. She was going to find out which one and then she was going to take pleasure in killing him. Eye for an eye.
“Queen, you a better bitch than me.”
Naeema forced her body to remain relaxed even as she turned to smile at Vivica, Red’s girlfriend and her bridge into the crew. There were many times she had to remind herself that these motherfuckers knew her as Queen. For them, Naeema—the mother of Brandon Mack—didn’t exist. “It was a’ight,” she said, shrugging her shoulder as she took in the slender light-skinned beauty with wide-set eyes and full lips.
Vivica played with her hot-pink cornrows that reached
the top of her ass in the shorts she wore. “I’ll spend the money but fuck putting myself in the line of fire to get it,” she said, walking past Naeema to open one of the double doors.
Bitch, if you had anything to do with killing my son, you’re already in the line of fire.
“Queen, you coming?” Vivica asked, looking back over her shoulder.
Naeema followed the other woman into the sanctuary, very aware that she was living among a den of thieves and a murderer that she was hell-bent on fleshing out.