CHAPTER 1 LIMBO
There was only one thing on this Earth that dominated me. The things I have done to secure it have embarrassed the devil. The filth that smudged it fueled my ambition to hoard it. The texture of it . . . the texture made my dick hard. But the things I planned to do with it would convert my atheist mother into a full-blown believer.
The DJ’s raspy voice boomed through the sound system. “The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!”
Sweaty and scantily-dressed bodies on the dance floor responded with, “We don’t need no water, let the motherfucker burn. Burn motherfucker, burn!”
I rubbed six Benjamin Franklins between my brown fingers. “Murdock, money possesses me. I can’t get enough of it.”
“Who isn’t attached to it in some twisted way?” Murdock tossed his ball cap on the table beside our in-house phone. “I’m crazy in love with it myself, cousin. Why else would I murder for it?”
“What’s your reason for loving these evil-ass pieces of green paper with pictures of dead racists on them?” I set the money in front of Murdock. “What’s so special about this shit?”
He had a pensive look going on. “I’m in love with money for the same reasons everybody loves it. I’ll just go to the extreme to get it. Cash gives me power and advantage. I can buy all kinds of shit with it. Shit that puts a stupid-ass Kool-Aid grin on my face. Your obsession ain’t too much different.”
“Different?” I turned to my childhood friend. “I’m hypnotized by the might of a dollar for an entirely different reason. You know how fucked up it was for me and my sister growing up. Nobody else in my family is gonna experience life like we did. Adams is gonna be a household name associated with financial prosperity. I’m gonna be the one to create a legacy for my family.
“Crackers been doing it for years. They’re still passing down old money they made from jacking America and from slavery. You got to respect crackers, though, ’cause they’re smart. They don’t be thinking about themselves or what they can buy now. They’re raised to think along the lines of what their great-great-great grandchildren can buy.” I put my hand on Murdock’s shoulder and looked in his elusive brown eyes. “Crackers ain’t no smarter than me.” I leaned in closer. “When I die in these streets, at least sixty of my generations will be straight. I put that on everything that means anything.”
Murdock fingered the brim of his hat. He was in deep thought. “Do you know how many people we might have to kill and how many kilos we’d have to sell to see that type of cash?”
“Yup, that’s the goal: hustle by any means.” I took a brief trip to the future and thought about my unborn grandbabies. “But I feel like I’m running out of time, doc. I feel like death is stalking me.”
“Man, what you talking—”
“Here you guys go.” Amber came to my private table.
The table was on the second floor, overlooking the entire club. She placed a bottle of Cristal in front of me. What the fuck was that all about? Murdock and I looked at her as if she had lost her damn mind.
“Ambie, what’s the meaning of this?” I smoothed down my goatee. It was something I did to check my anger.
“Limbo, don’t you even trip and call yourself going off on me.
I just work here, remember? Trip on the white bitch at the bar.” She sucked her teeth.
Murdock and I went to the banister and looked down at the bar. A blonde with hair past her shoulders, who looked as if she was one of Hugh Hefner’s Playmates, raised her champagne flute. I nodded. It was a played-out cliché, but she really did light up the room with her gorgeous smile. Her smile was so powerful, I was afraid to admire it because I thought I might get strung out.
“Hold up, Amber,” Murdock said, stepping to her. “Let me holler at you.”
They crossed the velvet rope and headed for the stairs.
“What you got in mind tonight?”
“Going to sleep, and not with you. Maybe . . . Don’t you have a woman at home? Look, we’ve been through this script a thousand times. I’m too much woman for you anyway.”
“Amber, why does it always got to be the runaround with you? Me and my woman ain’t even together for real. We have one of those fuck-you relationships. I don’t want to hurt her—”
Murdock followed Amber downstairs into the crowded club. I picked up the phone and called the bar.
Hershel picked up before the first ring finished. “I knew you’d be calling.”
“What’s up with the blonde and the bottle?”
“I don’t know. She’s a newcomer, though. I told her that you and Murdock didn’t indulge in alcoholic beverages, but she insisted. Something isn’t right, I tell you. This one is so pretty I can’t stand to look at her. She hurts an old man’s eyes. She must be the devil.”
I could feel her watching me. I scanned the room from my seat
and there she was staring from a dark corner. “She’s just feeling me. She’s not the devil.”
“Then she’ll do ’til the real one gets here.”
“You see Murdock?” I felt her eyes devouring me whole.
“Yeah, he’s trying to get a sniff of Amber’s goodies.”
“Tell him it’s time to shake this place. I’m calling it a night.” I needed home-cooked food, sex, and sleep . . . and I needed them in that order.
I checked the rearview to make sure I wasn’t being followed by anyone other than Murdock. At 4:39 in the morning, my Range Rover and Murdock’s Q45 were the only vehicles on Scalp Avenue.
As I pulled away from a traffic light I thought about how I used to have dreams of heaven, but I was living in hell and it was good to me. My life was like a bad dream, only I couldn’t awaken from it; sleep was my only temporary relief. I looked over at the tote bag, worn from years of lugging bulky money, sitting on my passenger’s seat and smiled. Sixty-four thousand from a Friday’s collection was a good day’s pay. I was up five grand from last Friday’s take.
The parking garage came into view. Murdock flashed his high beams, drove around me and entered the garage first to make sure that me and the money weren’t about to be ambushed. I respected Murdock’s “Better safe than sorry” philosophy, but no one knew how we drove here each morning, switched cars, and left out of an underground exit, headed to our respective homes. Murdock’s in the sumptuous Richland, mine in the opulent Windber. We religiously practiced this routine to mislead anyone who was plotting a jack or worse. The whole goal was to minimize the chance of leading hoodlums to our homes and putting our families in danger.
Not a minute had passed before I pulled into the garage and found Murdock sitting on the hood of his car with a Ruger in hand. I parked beside him, and between the rest of our fleet of cars. I grabbed the tote bag and hopped out. “Who was the white broad that sent us the bottle of Cris?” That question had been on my mind since we left Extraordinary People.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. Miss something for a change.” Murdock tucked the gun in his khakis. He kept his attire gangster: cornrows, Dickies, sweatshirts, a ball cap broke ninety degrees to the left. Today he was rocking the Cleveland Indians; and, daily, he broadcasted his signature style: the untied Timberland boots.
“How could I? She wanted me to notice her. Besides, when I start missing little shit, Blake will decorate both our wrists with iron bracelets.” I could see the bulky slug-proof vest under Murdock’s hoody. He never took the damn thing off. If he could get away with it, I’d be willing to bet that he’d shower in it.
“Big Mouth Nina told me that Ms. Blondy transferred here from North Carolina State to finish her last year of college at University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. She’s punching the clock at Denny’s.”
“Damn that girl be knowing the business. She should be a news anchor.”
“What makes you ask? You don’t do white girls, right?” Murdock looked at me sideways. “If Hayden’s evil ass even thought you imagined fucking with a snow bunny, it would be hell on earth in slow-ass Johnstown, Pennsylvania.”
My relationship with my wife was monogamous for the most part. Any messing around was consensual. We’d swing with different women from around the world who Hayden had carefully chosen from the Internet; although, she never invited a white woman into our bedroom because of her deep-rooted hatred.
I said, “You know I don’t fuck around on my woman; we fuck around together. This new face got a name?”
“Rhapsody?” That’s different, I thought.
Murdock nodded, still looking at me sideways.
“I like the way she carried herself—her swagger—when we scoped the room to see who sent the bottle, but it felt like she was studying me instead of checking me out. It was strange. You feel me?”
“Your mind is playing tricks on you.”
“I hollered at Hershel before we left. He told me that he told the broad we didn’t drink, but she insisted on sending the bottle anyway.”
“Hershel sells liquor for a living. That was a three-hundred-dollar sale. Do you really think greedy-ass Hershel would insist that she didn’t? He gotta split everything he makes with you. That thirsty old man ain’t turning no money down. Besides, it ain’t no stranger than the rest of them gold-digging bitches who be staring and watching, but are too scared to step because they know Hayden will get in their asses.”
Murdock definitely had a point.
“Limbo, you got to tell Hayden to take the press off these hoes. She’s even fucking up my extra-curriculum pussy.”
The bullshit Murdock was talking was the furthest thing from my mind. I was trying to figure out the white girl, and why I got a twang in my chest when I thought about that smile.
Murdock said, “Relax, you’re making something out of nothing. The bottle of Cris was just a gesture to show that the tack-head has some class. She can separate the real players from the lames when they’re in her presence. It also tells me that that bad-ass white hoe has heart. I’m sure somebody put her up on game about your maniac wife, but she wasn’t afraid to step. I take that to mean she’s trying to set that ass out.”
“I have to agree with you.” Then I wondered if her pussy was good. Just a man thought, even when we had no intention of actually finding out.
“Agree with me about what?”
“She’s the finest pink toe I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t make any logical sense how pretty she is.”
We gave each other a pound, then Murdock asked me how should he handle the situation with Black Mike.
“How much is missing?” I set the moneybag down.
“Not much. Seven thousand. He ain’t smoking, so he’s downright sneak thieving. I started to crack his shit, playing on my intelligence, feeding me some bullshit about our packages were short.”
“Were they?” I knew that would piss him off, but I was duty bound to question it.
Murdock had an annoyed look on his face. “Limbo, I don’t know whether I’m supposed to take that as disrespect or total disrespect.”
“On this gangster shit.” I threw up our neighborhood’s gang sign: 59 Hoover Crips. “No disrespect. I just wanna make sure Black Mike gets dealt with justly. If I have him punished for something on our part, it will breed animosity and hatred toward us amongst our staff. It will also send the wrong message to the rest of our employees: fear us. The wrong type of fear will have motherfuckers on the inside of our camp working to destroy us on the low. We have enough problems with those hatin’-ass Pittsburgh cats.”
“The thief is tapping the packages.” He bounced his head in rhythm with his words.
“Where is he now?” I couldn’t wait to get home. I was tired of all this bullshit, but knew I couldn’t stop yet.
“In the trunk of that broken-down Mazda parked in the backyard of the dope spot.”
“Break all of his fingers. Bust him back down to block status. Let Dollar run the spot; he’s been looking to climb the corporate ladder. Make sure Black Mike knows that he has one week to get my money up.” I shook my head. I used to think Black Mike had potential, but now he’d disappointed me. I was sure the fool had weighed the consequences of stealing from me—the extremities between getting away with it or getting caught. I wonder what he thought I would do if he were caught. “Just so we send the right message, when he pays me, take him somewhere and blow his dream maker out.”