A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, a wicked crack dealer lived in a dingy motel room on a bad stretch of road in the lower part of town. His name was Raymond, but everyone who knew him, or knew of him, called him Rayban. His was a dark soul.
Every night he sat at his window looking down on the street below keeping a close eye on his boys. Young and hungry, they lounged in the driveways of no-tell motels or hung out at the Jack-in-the-Box waiting for customers, glancing up now and then seeking the approval of the dark face in the window.
The customers trickled in from up and down the street, on foot or in cars that pulled up at the light, greeting the boys as they passed, asking directions from a car window, or hanging out for a minute to discuss the weather. Everyone always shook hands. When they had moved on, no one cared about the weather, no one had met a friend, and no one received directions.
The street in the daytime was a study in shades of concrete and faded paint. The homeless haunted the gas station on the corner and pushed grocery carts up and down like mothers with strollers. There was a shop hidden away behind the gas station run by a group of Pentecostals, and it was said you could get a meal there. The sex workers and the street dealers were sleeping off the night behind the dirty white or faded pastel facades of the motels. The car traffic, unless stalled by the traffic light or waylaid by the Jack-in-the-Box or the gas station, was all on its way to somewhere else. In a hurry.
In most stories, I suppose, the street at night would come alive, but I can’t say that this one did. Oh, the lights on the no-tells lit up with a neon come-on that promised anything but gaiety. The Jack-in-the-Box and the gas station were busier selling supper and cigs. The hookers came out of their lairs and strolled along the sidewalk pretending to be taking the air. Small groups of toughs hung on the corners, having their own jobs to do for the man in the window. And the boys, of course, the boys fitted themselves into the shadows knowing they would be found by those who wished to find them. Nevertheless, it was a dark street with dark places, and even the traffic, some of which rolled through more slowly now, looking for what they wanted, rolled on as soon as was reasonably possible.
Jackson came strolling up the street around 9:30 on a Saturday night. He was, as his girlfriend, Amy, liked to describe him, tall, long dreads, bad mood. Tonight his mood had taken a turn for the better, since he had managed to fool Amy one more time and now had the cash from his paycheck safely in his own pocket. She’d figure it out, of course, because she always did, but for now he was free.
Jackson was ten times a fool, of course, for coming down this street tonight. Action Jackson, as his pals at the tavern called him, could take care of himself all right. Nevermind that he was a month out of the hospital. Pneumonia, he told the guys. He had lied. Jackson had nearly died from a staph infection he had contracted from injecting himself with cocaine with a reused needle.
“Never again,” he had promised Amy. “I learned my lesson.”
“You better,” Amy had said. “I’m not wasting my time with just another black man on coke. You’re a goddammed cliché.”
But then, as the weeks dragged on and all the passion of life seemed dead and gone to him, he thought of Joey and his friends just a few blocks away, and he copped a crack pipe from a pal at the bar and tonight he was once again on the prowl. It wasn’t like he was going to get addicted. He was already addicted. He knew that. But he wasn’t going to be no no-class needle junkie. Not Action Jackson. Not anymore.
“Hey, bro. How’s it hangin’?” he asked the first retailer on the block. This one, Joey, was white, maybe 17 or 18. Long hair. Bad complexion. Jackson always liked approaching the white boys first. They wanted so bad to be bad, and they thought being seen talking to Jackson upped their street cred.
Joey edged out from his shadow. “Dude! It’s cool. Everthin’ copacetic. What can I do you for?”
Jackson laughed to himself. The white boys loved using words like “copacetic.” “Coupla bags of smokeables should set me up. Can you help a brother out?” They liked being called “brother,” too.
“Any time, bro. Joey’s here for ya.” He reached into the fanny pack around his waist and palmed two paper bindles.
Jackson had already palmed a fifty-dollar bill, and the two palms met in a practiced handshake.
“That a fitty?” Joey asked.
“What else?” Jackson retorted, as if he found the question insulting. “You sayin’ I stiffed you?”
Joey glanced up at the window. “Nah. ‘Course not. Just bidness. Gotta ask. You ain’t been around for a bit.” One eyebrow quirked up.
“Had a bad spell of pneumonia,” Jackson told him, pushing the bindles into a watch pocket. “Man, that crap just took all the action out of Jackson.”
Joey laughed. “That’ll do ‘er, shure nuff. Well, have a good one.” And he faded back into his shadow.
Jackson turned to head back up the street. Maybe Amy wouldn’t find out. He’d smoked crack before, but it didn’t have the rush of the needle. It just brightened him up a bit, as he recalled. He could light up in the bathroom and be his old self again. He smiled, as he thought of how surprised she would be when he swept her off her feet and into bed, like in the old days. She was going to be one happy woman. He almost felt like whistling.
A hand landed on his shoulder. “You the one they call Action Jackson?”
Jackson turned back. One of the three toughs from the far end of the street stood grinning at him. The man was short and squat, with a face like broken asphalt. His hand fell from Jackson’s shoulder and was stuffed into a jacket pocket. Jackson had no doubt of what that hand found there. His pals formed a phalanx behind him.
“Yeah, who wants to know?”
Tough One used his other hand to jerk a thumb up at a motel window. “Big man wants to see you.”
Jackson followed Tough One into the dingy room followed closely behind by Toughs Two and Three.
“You wanted to see him, Boss?” T1 asked.
“Yeah. Bring him in and set him down.”
T1 gave Jackson a little shove on the shoulder. “Take a chair.” Then to Rayban. “Want us to hang around?”
“What? You think I can’t handle this scarecrow? Y’all get back to work.”
They got, and Jackson stumbled toward the offered chair opposite the big man by the window. An overflowing ashtray, a deck of cards laid out for solitaire, and a gun took up most of the space on the round table.
“You the one they call Action Jackson?” Rayban lit a cigarette and offered one to Jackson.
“Some do.” Jackson had recovered a bit of his old brash self. He waved off the offer and reached for his own pack of Newports, then hesitated for only a moment as the other man offered a light.
Jackson wasn’t scared, exactly. But he was wary. He’d heard about this guy, the man who ran the boys and not a few of the women. How he watched from his window. How there wasn’t anything he missed. Why was he playing with him, Jackson? What was his game?
“Hey, Candy!” Rayban hollered.
A door Jackson hadn’t noticed opened and a dark-skinned woman in a blonde wig stuck her head out.
“Bring us a coupla cold ones, huh? And empty this damn ashtray. What’d I tell you about emptying the ashtrays in case of company. And look! We got company.” His voice had a teasing tone.
“Coming right up.” Candy disappeared.
She came back with two tall bottle Buds, dumped the ashtray into the waste can behind Rayban’s chair, and disappeared with a parting slap on the ass from her boss.
“Always give one of the girls a night off so’s they can run a few errands for me.” He settled in with his smoke and his beer, and fixed Jackson with an appraising look.
“Haven’t seen you around for a while,” he said. “Been on vacation?”
Now, Jackson had enough street smarts to know that “been on vacation” meant “were you locked up,” but he also had enough to know not to say that directly.
“Came down with pneumonia, man. That stuff can kill ya.”
Rayban laughed. “Pneumonia, huh? Yeah, I had that crap once. Couldn’t get out of bed for a week. Good thing I had my boys around…not to mention the girls. Not that I had any energy for that action. Went into the emergency room, and they fixed me up with some antibiotics. Fixed that shit right up.”
“Tell me about it. My old lady took good care of me, but she warn’t too happy about it.”
They exchanged commiserating grins.
Rayban’s grin disappeared. “You ain’t been back by in over a month. So, brother, what’s your story?”
“No story, man. Pneumonia. Shit just dragged on and on.”
“Um hmm. Mebbe so. Mebbe so. Who’s been fixing you up, then? You ain’t just cleaned up. I know that. I mean, there were a couple of days when I had it that powder didn’t do shit for me. Doesn’t mean I didn’t try.” He laughed again, a dry little laugh.
“My old lady, she …”
“Let’s cut the crap and just have an honest conversation. Roll up your sleeves, why doncha?” He stubbed out his cigarette and put his elbows on the table, leaning forward with narrowed eyes.
“Why? What? You think I’m some kind of … Hey, I just ain’t had anything for a while, ‘cause of being sick and all. I ain’t trying to get anything over on you.”
“I don’t think nuthin’. Just roll up your sleeves for me. No big deal.”
Jackson thought about the two new packets in his pocket. At the moment, they seemed like water in the desert. If he was high, he could …
“Now. Pretty please?” Rayban smiled a not pretty smile.
Jackson pushed his sleeves up past his elbows. Old puncture wounds scarred the inside of his arms. “There. All healed up. You satisfied? I told you I ain’t done any shit for a while.” He put his own elbows on the table and leaned across them. “That’s why I got two quarts burning a hole in my pocket right now. A man’s gotta right …”
Candy poked her head into the room. “Yeah, boss?”
“Bring us out a set of works, wouldja, girl? Action here is gonna treat us.”
“No shit.” She squinted in Jackson’s direction. “He’s not bad lookin’, either. I might even …”
“The works, girl.”
Jackson pushed his sleeves down and thought heavily. He’d figured out why the big man had called him up. If Jackson had been busted and gone “on vacation” for a while, he might have cut a deal to get out. The guy wanted to make sure of him. Get him high, he might get what he wanted. On the other hand, Jackson had gotten sick unto death just reusing a needle of his own. He wasn’t about to let these people stick somebody else’s needle into his arm. He knew he was stupid for blowing this chance to get clean, and Amy was probably already packing his shit up, but hell, he wasn’t that stupid.
“Here ya go, boss.” Candy came back into the room with a tray holding a glass of water and a couple of loose syringes fitted with needles with some crusty looking spoons.
Jackson held his hand up. “Wait a minute … what do I call you, anyway?”
“You can call me Rayban. What’s the problem, Action?”
“I ain’t shootin’ that shit anymore. Almost killed me.”
“What you talkin’? You didn’t catch no pneumonia from shooting up.”
“Nah. I was lyin’ about the pneumonia, just like you thought. Just didn’t want folks to think I was stupid.”
“So, where you been, Action?”
“I been laying up in the hospital, man. Got a staph infection in my blood. Using my own needle. Can you believe it?”
Candy, still holding the tray, raised her eyebrow at her boss.
“So, what’s you planning to do with that half gram?”
Jackson sat back in his chair and reached into his shirt pocket. Rayban put his hand on the butt of the pistol but didn’t move as Jackson pulled out the pipe.
“Figured I’d see what smokin’ it would do for me. Life ain’t really been the same, know what I mean?”
Rayban took his hand off the gun, leaned back in his chair, and laughed.
“Candy, you hear what this man said? He’s gonna stay healthy, so he’s giving up the needle for the pipe. Don’t that beat all? Well, brother.” Rayban stifled the laugh and reached his hand across the table. Jackson, not knowing what else to do, shook it. “In that case, let’s use a little of mine before we dip into yours. Whaddya say?” He turned to Candy. “Take that shit back. That’s for some other loser. No losers in here, right?” He grinned at Jackson again.
Candy started for the door.
“Then maybe you can come on back in here and join the party, huh?” Rayban called to her. “Here, gimme that pipe,” he said to Jackson, and hauled out a baggie with what looked like white gravel in it. He put a pinch into the bowl, handed it to Jackson, and offered a light.
“Make sure you save a little for me.” Candy had come back, bringing three beers with her.
“Sure will, sweet thang.”
Jackson took a big drag from the pipe, and felt his head explode. His head lolled against the back of the chair and his hands fell to the table.
“Jesus Christ! What’d you put in that thing?” Candy’s deft fingers snatched the pipe from his hand and prepared to take a hit.
“Just a bit of my own stuff. Boy’s been clean for a while. Near killed hisself shootin’, he says.” Rayban chuckled. “Thinks he can handle the pipe better. Here.” He handed Candy another pinch. “You better go easy yourself. Shit’s pretty wicked.”
“You smokin’, boss?”
“Nah. Maybe later. Gotta make my money first. Let’s see how old Action Jackson here does.”
Candy lit the pipe and drew in a shallow breath. “Wow. You ain’t kiddin’, boss. That’s some good shit.”
“Just remember you gonna have to make it up to me. I don’t do felonies fo’ free.” Rayban put the baggie down on the table near the butt of the gun and looked across the table at Jackson. “You still among the living?”
Jackson was moving carefully, straightening himself in his chair and crossing his arms on the table, a vacant smile on his face. “Yeah. Everything copacetic. You the boss.” His lips barely moved. His voice was that of a choir boy. Sweet, with no rough edges.
“Why’nt you take him on back to the room, there, Candy. I think Action here might be better off staying a while.”
Candy got to her feet and gently pulled Jackson to his. She turned to Rayban. “Want I should take the pipe and a little more for him?”
“He got some in his pockets. You go on now. I gotta keep an eye on the boys.”
So she led Jackson through the door and closed it behind her.
Amy had been asleep for two, maybe three hours,when her phone rang. Raggedy with sleep and lack of it, she turned over and pulled a pillow onto her head. She knew who it was, of course. And what it meant. She had known this moment would come since last night, when Jackson hadn't come home. In her heart, she had known ever since he left the hospital that this moment would come. Either he would come sliding in the door with another "you ain't gonna believe this" excuse, and head straight for the bathroom, or she would get a phone call.
Dead or in jail? she wondered, when the phone stopped ringing, and tried not to care.
Still, the pre-dawn phone call had worked its dark magic, and Amy was no longer asleep. She flung the extra pillow toward the far wall and reached for her phone to check the log. Cops or hospital? But as she did so, the phone rang again, and the name “Jackson” popped into the Caller I.D. box. Amy answered it and started talking.
“So, asshole. You better be dead or in jail, cause you ain’t coming home.”
She knew that voice. Jackson’s high voice. All soft and sleepy.
“Don’t you ‘Amy girl’ me. You crazy? Not two months ago, you were laying up in the hospital with a needle stuck in your chest and a tube down your throat. You miss that, huh? People fussing over you like you was gonna die. Which you almost did.” The words caught in her throat. “Fool!” She’d meant that last to sound blistering, but she heard the threat of tears in it and knew he could hear it too. This is where he starts to play me, and I fucking asked for it.
“Amy, listen, honey. I fucked up. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” Again, that far away voice, no inflexion – it was the way too high voice. A voice that came from somewhere far inside through lips that barely moved. “I need help …”
“You need somebody to lock you up and throw away the key, that’s what you need.” She had her voice back under control, the threat of tears banished by disgust – with herself and with him, with his pathetic whining and his pathetic excuses. She glared at the phone and willed herself to hang up and put it down.
Somebody laughed, like gravel crunching underfoot.
Amy froze, her phone still in her hand
“That’s your name, right? Amy? Nice name, Amy.” It was a dangerous voice. A voice too dangerous to hang up on. To answer. To ignore.
“See, here’s the thing, Amy. I’ve got your man – he’s your man, right? The one they call ‘Action Jackson’?” He chuckled, dry stones rolling on concrete. “A very pretty boy, Jackson. My best ho Candy, she likes him a lot.”
“Good. She can have him.” Amy heard herself spit out the words as if someone else were saying them.
“Well, that’s the problem, see. The boy don’t have no money left. He been smoking shit all night – just gave up his phone for his last hit. An’ he so zonked he can’t hardly move. Lying up in my bed an’ all, I figure somebody better come get him before I have my boys drag his sorry ass down to the alley and kick some sense into him.”
Now, Amy wasn’t nearly as hard-hearted as she would like to think she was. She was pretty certain she could leave Jackson in jail or even in the hospital – especially in the hospital. At least someone would be there to look after him. But dumped in an alley and beaten? It made her feel sick inside. Something cold grew in her stomach, as she listened to the breathing that waited on the other end of the line.
“You don’t want that, do you, Amy?” the voice said then.
“N-no,” said her own tiny one.
“Okay.” He sounded cheerful, as if a problem had been solved. “You bring a hunerd fitty down here to the Days Eze Motel, an’ you can take your man on outta here. Deal?”
“One hundred and fifty dollars? Why do I have to pay you a hundred and fifty dollars? I don’t owe you nuthin’!”
“Your man does, little girl. Your man does. You bring me another hunerd, I’ll throw in the phone. Here. Looks like he wants to talk atchoo again.”
“Amy? You do this, I owe you for life.” The voice was cracked, but audible.
“I do this, I never want to see you again.”
“I need my phone, girl. You know I gotta work. Can’t work without my phone.”
Amy drew a deep breath. He had her. She knew he had her. But it was the last time. It was the last damn time.
“What room are you in?” she asked
She heard Jackson take a long breath of relief. “Just a minute.”
“I’ll have my boy Joey waiting for you. White kid. You can’t miss him.” The gravelly voice could have been ordering a pizza
“I’m on my way,” she said, and hung up the phone.
Joey was over the moon. One of the toughs had come down the block to tell him to bring the take in early tonight, said Rayban had a job for him. It had been a good night, too. Joey’s cut might be enough to spring for breakfast at Jack-in-the-Box instead of going for the freebie from the Pentecostals. They meant well, telling him to get out while he still had a chance. Chance for what? Joey always wondered.
If Jackson was a black cliché, Joey was a white one. He had been in and out of foster care for most of his 17 years, running away from most of them, succeeding this last time. He had never known a father, and his mother – well, he didn’t even know where she was or why he had been taken away. He had his guesses. Occasionally, when a woman pulled to the curb at his spot and he went forward for a quick handshake, he had wondered. But then, he also wondered if she was one of those pushing a grocery cart, tending to her heap of belongings as if they were a precious child. Didn’t matter anymore anyway. He had found a place in the world, and now the big man had a job for him.
He was surprised when one of the guards ushered him into the room. Joey had fully expected to see Jackson sittin’ there, shootin’ the shit with the boss, drinkin’ whiskey, maybe playin’ cards or whatever the big guys did while they were keeping a close eye on their territory below. ‘Course, maybe Jackson had left already, running another job for the big man. Why else did he have Jackson brought upstairs to him, if not to hire him? Action Jackson was one of the coolest dudes Joey knew.
“Here ya go, Boss.” Joey opened his fanny pack and took out a bundle of bills and tossed them on the table. “Still got a couple little ones left here.” He took out two small baggies and threw them on the pile. “You need me for sumpin’ else?” Joey knew the big man liked to be called Rayban, but you had to be more important than Joey to call him anything other than boss.
Rayban looked the skinny white kid up and down – like he was sizing him up. His eyelids closed slightly, making his face a blank, black mask, while he made the kid wait.
Finally, just when Joey was thinking of shifting his weight to the other foot but was afraid to break the stillness, Rayban leaned forward and scooped the pile toward himself, making a nest of it.
“Good job,” he said, handing Joey a couple of bills. “Got another one for you. Think you can handle it?” He smiled, his teeth a white gash in a black mask.
“Don’t know why not, Boss.” Joey finally relaxed a little and shifted.
The eyelids flicked upward, revealing a faint gleam like a pair of dim headlights. “You can or you can’t.”
“I can. No doubt about it, Boss. You bet I can.” Joey didn’t like the way his voice sounded. It didn’t sound cool.
Rayban chuckled, dry stones over pavement. “Just messin’ wit’ ya. Easy peasy job. Woman on her way over here to collect sompin’. You go down to the courtyard and escort her up here when she comes. Don’t want to use one of the other boys. They might scare her off.” He opened his mouth in a wide smile this time, as if he thought it would set Joey at ease. It didn’t.
“She white?” Joey asked.
Rayban sat back in his chair. “Hmm. Don’t rightly know. I got the impression she’s a nice colored girl. But could be either one. Does it matter?”
“No. No not at all. I can handle it, Boss. Ladies, they seem to like me. Both colors.”
Rayban laughed outright at that. “You get on down there. Her name is Amy. Don’t go draggin’ some stray ho up here. Got it?”
“Got it.” Joey felt like saluting but didn’t. “I’m gone.” He closed the door behind him and gave the guard outside a two-fingered salute to his forehead instead. “Got a job for the Boss,” he told him. The guard remained slouched against the wall and Joey went on down the stairs.
Amy had pried herself out of bed, feeling like the worst kind of fool. She had some cash in her wallet, but it turned out to be only fifty-six dollars and twenty-three cents. Which meant she had to stop at an ATM. A black woman. Alone. At 3:30 a.m. She had never wanted to own a gun, but she wished she had one now.
Before leaving the bathroom, she glanced into the mirror. Her light copper face looked washed out from lack of sleep, but she didn’t want to lose time with makeup. Didn’t want this asshole thinking she was out to impress him. Her short natural was all squished on one side, so she picked it out until she looked halfway normal. No sense giving him anything to poke fun at, either.
Amy was trembling when she left the ATM she found in a better neighborhood a few blocks in the opposite direction from where she needed to go. She clutched the two hundred dollars and forty dollars in twenties in her hand, climbed back into her car, locked all the doors, and started the engine before adding a ten from her wallet and making a little packet of exactly two hundred and fifty dollars that she shoved into her jacket pocket. Then she pulled away from the curb and started back toward where she had promised to be, so scared and angry that tears ran down her cheeks. Never again, she promised herself for the umpteenth time. Once she got him home, she was packing his shit and putting it by the front door. No. Not by the front door. On the front stoop. Outside the house. What was Jackson to her anyway? On a good day, he wasn’t much more than sexy arm candy. On a bad day, well, if she wanted to bring home wounded strays, there was always the Humane Society.
The pre-dawn dark that had settled over the street by the time Amy arrived had a sleepy quality to it. The Jack-in-the-Box and the gas station stood sentinel at either end, oases of light and color harboring tired and bored employees and an occasional customer. The rest of the block materialized in blocky shapes of black or patchy pastels bathed in the ghastly green and yellow lights advertising the Days Eze Motel, a giant daisy given a leprous look by spots of burnt out bulbs.
Amy pulled into the courtyard, parked, and sat there, doors locked, willing the tears to stop. Finally, seeing no one about, she opened the door and stepped out.
She jumped at the voice that came out of the shadows, piercing the preternatural silence that seemed to have settled down around her. Squinting into the darkness, she saw a dark figure with a pale, almost shining face coming toward her.
“Don’t be scared. I’m Joey, one of Rayban’s boys. He tol’ me to take good care of you. Follow me.” He smiled at her and gestured toward a set of stairs dimly visible behind him.
Amy almost laughed. This kid with long stringy yellow hair and a goofy grin – this was one of gravel guy’s boys? What had he called him, “Rayban?”
“Hurry up. Big man don’t like to be kept waiting.” Joey advanced a step and took her arm.
Amy shrugged it off gently. “I’m okay,” she told him. “Lead on.” Something in her felt protective of the kid. She tried to shrug that off, too. One loser at a time, she told herself, as she followed him up the stairs.
“Rayban wants to see her,” Joey told the thug lurking beside a door on the second floor balcony.
The thug shrugged and opened the door a crack. “Some woman here to see ya, Boss?” he yelled through the crack.
“Well, bring her on in, then.” It was the gravelly voice.
The thug stood aside and made a mock attempt at a gallant gesture. Amy followed Joey inside and heard the door close behind her. For a moment, all was quiet. Amy looked around the dimly-lit room for Jackson but could see little except a big black man sitting at a round table holding an overflowing ash tray, a pile of cash, and a gun. This was Rayban? It took her a moment to realize he was wearing dark sunglasses that merged so well with the black of his skin that it seemed he had no eyes at all. Amy couldn’t take her eyes off him.
“Where’s Jackson?” she asked, when she could force herself to focus.
“You bring the money?”
“You bring Jackson in, I’ll give you the money.” Amy stuck her chin out hoping she looked forceful, but she knew there was no way she could prevent this man and his thugs from taking anything they wanted from her.
She shut the thought away.
“You want me to leave, Boss?” Joey asked.
The big man hesitated a moment, then gestured toward the back of the room.
“Candy got him back there. Go on and haul him out here.” He sounded bored. Then he gestured to the chair across from him. “Whyn’t you take a seat, make yourself at home?”
“No, thank you,” Amy said, in a tight voice. She stuck her hand in her pocket and pulled out the little packet of bills she had made up earlier. When she lifted her head to take it to him, she saw he had the gun in his hand.
His lips tightened in what Amy took to be a grim smile. He put the gun down.
“Man like me’s gotta be careful,” he told her, as he reached for the money.
She back up a step. “The phone. This pays for the phone, too.”
“You drive a hard bargain, little lady,” Rayban said, with what sounded like a John Wayne drawl.
Amy swallowed a laugh but stood her ground until he drew a cellphone out of his pocket and handed it over to her. She took it, gingerly, with two fingers of one hand, then let go of the money with her other into his without touching him. She drew back quickly. “Two hundred and fifty. Just like you asked. It’s all there.”
“Oh, I know it’s all there,” he told her, and added it to the pile of cash on the table.
Behind her, a door opened. Amy turned to see Jackson, dark against the yellow light in the far room, supported by Joey and another figure.
Jackson raised his head. “You came,” he rasped. “I didn’t think you would come.” He shrugged free of his supports and staggered forward, then almost fell before Joey and the woman – a woman? – took hold of him again.
“Who’s this?” Amy asked, pointing at the dark woman with the blonde wig who sagged slightly under Jackson’s weight as he leaned on her shoulder.
“I’m Candy,” Candy said, “and don’t worry ‘bout me. I ain’t touched your old man.”
“I don’t give a rat’s ass. You can keep him.” Amy started toward the door, meaning to leave everyone here to their own dismal fates and hoping she could wipe the scene from her memory entirely.
“Amy, baby!” Jackson found his last strength and, pushing both Joey and Candy away he nearly fell on Amy’s shoulders. She staggered under the weight but held her own as he cried into her ear. “Don’t leave me here. Take me anywhere you want, dump me out somewhere else, but don’t leave me here. Please don’t leave me here.” He stood more firmly on his feet, still holding her shoulders, and tried to look her in the eye. “They’ll kill me.”
Amy looked over his shoulder at Joey and Candy. Candy stood with her hand on her hip, her ample body bulging out of a faded yellow lace bustier and a too-short skirt. Joey just shuffled his feet, looking embarrassed.
Not for the first time that night, Amy tried not to laugh. The entire scene, from beginning to end, was so B-movie, so clichéd TV drug scene, it was becoming hard to take seriously. She pushed him away.
“The car’s downstairs. Get your ass down there.” She turned to Rayban.
“And you! You should be ashamed of yourself, selling that poison to people like this man.” She jerked a thumb at Jackson, who had lurched up against the door. “You haul me down here in the middle of the night for a measly two hundred and fifty dollars, and you live in a shit hole motel in the middle of dumbfuck nowhere. You must really think you’re all that! Well, you ain’t. And if this asshole,” her thumb indicated the asshole she meant, “turns up here again, don’t be calling me because I ain’t coming back.” She turned toward Jackson, meaning to open the door and try to get him down the stairs. Both Jackson and Joey stood there, staring past her. Amy looked over her shoulder. Rayban had picked up his gun, and was sighting at her through it, but for some reason she wasn’t scared. She was mad.
“Oh, for God’s sakes. Everybody get a grip. Joey, give me a hand here, would you?” Her peremptory tone seemed to break the shadowy miasma of silence and fear. Rayban lowered the gun and nodded at Joey.
Joey got a hand on Jackson’s elbow and pulled him away while Amy opened the door. Together, they stumbled out of the room. Someone closed the door behind them as they lurched down the stairs.
“Amy,” Jackson began, as they reached the bottom.
“I don’t want to hear it. Just get in the car.” She fished her keys from her jacket pocket and unlocked the doors.
“But Amy. That’s the bravest thing I ever saw. Nobody talks to him like that.”
Joey opened the passenger door for him and helped him slide into the seat. “He’s right,” Joey said.
“I don’t give a shit.” She stalked around the car and opened the driver’s side door. Then she looked across the car at Joey. “Can I give you a ride anywhere?” she asked.
Joey looked down at Jackson, sprawled bonelessly in the passenger seat, with the disappointed eyes of the disenchanted.
“Nah. I’m good,” he told her.
Amy followed him with her eyes as he hunched his shoulders and headed out of the courtyard. She saw him again, as she pulled out into the street, going into the Jack-in-the-Box.
“And another one bites the dust,” she murmured, as she drove away, trying to keep her hands from shaking.
“Aw, Amy,” Jackson muttered beside her.
Amy paid no attention to him until she parked the car in front of her house.
“You can come in for the night,” she told him, before she realized that he had passed out. Looking at him now, his handsome face relaxed in sleep, she thought of the day he had stopped over with another couple, friends of hers, for a pleasant evening. Later, as they were leaving, Jackson had followed his friends halfway to the car before turning to see Amy standing in the doorway watching them go. He had grinned at her before coming back up the walk to plant a gentle kiss on her lips. His whispered “good night” had sounded like a promise.
Now she whispered, “Good bye,” and got out of the car, locking it behind her. She locked the door to the house as well, but as she turned away she decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. He would only pound on it until he woke her and the neighbors. Amy shrugged, unlocked the door, and went to bed.
Rayban watched as Amy and Jackson drove away, watched as Joey crossed the street to the Jack-in-the-Box, watched as his street sank back into silent shadows.
Candy moved behind him, massaging his shoulders as he stuffed all the money on the table into the black bag at his feet, where the rest of the night’s takings rested. “The boys coming up to party?” she asked.
“Not tonight. Ol’ Rayban needs his beauty sleep.” He added the gun to the money bag and slipped off his glasses. Without them, his eyes had a heavy, lidded look, the downturned corners of his mouth more tired than menacing.
“Were you really gonna shoot that bitch?”
Rayban laughed. “Nah. We don’t need that kind of trouble. Just wanted to put a little scare in her, ya know. Never hurts.”
“Think she’s gonna straighten his ass out?”
“Oh, I’m not worried about ol’ Action Jackson. He’ll be back around soon enough.” Rayban lumbered to his feet and turned to the window, surveying his kingdom. “So much for another Saturday night in the big city.”