Book Excerpt – Death in the City
Copyright © 2016 On-Demand Publishing LLC/Keith Kareem Williams No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission from the publisher or author. The format of this excerpt has been modified for presentation here.
1 - At First Light
While Troy was lost in thoughts of how to maintain the lifestyle they had grown accustomed to, Sade opened her eyes and smiled. Even deep in her own dreams, she had felt him there with her.
“How long have you been sitting there?” Sade asked, her voice still hoarse and raspy from sleep.
“Not long,” Troy answered softly, trying his best to mute his deep voice. He affectionately brushed her wild mane of hair out of her face with his fingers.
Sade reached out to touch his face and then beckoned him to lean in close so that they could kiss. She didn’t care about her morning breath as she breathed a sigh of relief to see him home in one piece. She always worried whenever he was gone all night. When she was a little girl, her own father had left and never come home. Most people assumed that he had run off but she knew better. Her father wasn’t the type of man to abandon his daughter or his family. The authorities never found his body or any other trace of him but Sade knew in her heart of hearts that her dad had to be dead. Her mother never spoke of it but felt the same way and lived in grief for the rest of her days. Losing Troy to the streets would’ve been history tragically repeating itself and Sade wasn’t sure if she could bear that.
“Why don’t you get out of those clothes and climb into bed with me. Take a shower first though. You smell like the streets,” she told him.
“And what do the streets smell like?” Troy asked and laughed.
“Smoke, smog, pain and suffering,” she answered.
“I’m about to take a shower anyway but I can’t stay in bed with you today,” Troy told her.
“And why not?” Sade asked, grabbing him by the collar of his goose-down jacket and pulling him down on top of her. He often spent the night out working but he always spent his days in with her.
“Today’s the day I meet with Manuel for the last time. I don’t want to be late,” he answered, then kissed her softly on the forehead.
“I forgot,” she answered sadly as she closed her eyes and sighed.
Troy pressed his lips to her closed eyelids, first one and then the other.
“Don’t worry. This is the last time,” he told her. “After this, we can open up that restaurant you keep nagging me about.”
“You said it was the last time, the last time,” she said and pushed him off of her before she rolled over and turned her back to him.
“And it was supposed to be, but you know what happened. You know what I lost,” he reminded her.
“Yes, I know what happened.”
“So you know that I have to do this, at least this last time,” he pleaded with her. He gently put his hand on her shoulder and rolled her back over to face him. Troy looked into Sade’s eyes and saw fear which was the last thing he wanted to see. It made him nervous because her intuition was almost never ever wrong. “Why do you look so scared?” he asked.
“Because, it wasn’t just money that you lost. Do you remember what they did to Reggie?” she asked.
“Of course I remember. He was my best friend. I’ll never forget what they did to him, or what he did for us. That’s why I have to do this.”
“They robbed him, and tortured him for days because he wouldn’t tell them where your money was,” Sade started to remind him.
“I know what they did to him,” Troy answered, raising his voice. “I see his body every night when I close my eyes. He died, so we can live.”
“Yes, he sacrificed himself so they couldn’t take what you both worked so hard for. We have enough now that you can get out. You don’t have to do this,” Sade practically begged.
“I knew Reggie since the first day of kindergarten. Thanks to the genes I got from my white mama, the kids would punch me just to see me what colors my bruises would be and Reggie was the only kid that stood up for me and looked out for me. It’s funny. We were the same age but he always felt like a dad to me, the way he always had the right thing to say, the way he was always right on time when I needed him. That’s thirty years of friendship. We did a lot of things, sacrificed a lot and fought hard for every dollar that we earned. We even survived the dirty cops who tried to extort us and then, when we didn’t pay, we survived those same cops trying to murder us, or rob us. The streets took its pound of flesh from us too. We paid the price along the way, with other friends that got killed or locked up. And we’ve paid our dues with our own blood too. That can’t be for nothing,” said Troy with conviction.
“It wasn’t. We have enough money,” she pleaded desperately but the look on Troy’s face let her know that her pleas fell fruitlessly on deaf ears.
“No, we don’t have enough and if I don’t do something, what we have won’t last long,” Troy explained.
Sade sat up in the bed and hugged him. She knew that mentioning Reggie would bring him pain but she needed to try anything to get him to hear her. She knew all about the dangerous game he played to earn a living but she wanted him to stop before she lost him to prison bars or a gruesome death.
“We can save what we have, go and then get regular jobs to save up the rest of what we need for the restaurant. And if we can’t open it, then we just can’t and I’m fine with that. I don’t care about money,” she whispered in his ear as she squeezed him.
“That’s because you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be poor. I haven’t,” he answered.
Sade let go of him when she saw in his eyes and felt in his soul that there was no changing his mind.
“Okay, then if you’re going, I’m coming with you,” she told him as she threw off the warm blanket and climbed out of bed.
“What?” he asked.
“You heard me. You say this is the last time. Fine. I’m going to trust your word but, I’m coming with you,” she said on her way to the bathroom.
“Why? You’ve never come with me before. Why now?”
“Reggie always went with you to see Manuel before. He’s gone so I’m coming instead,” Sade continued to insist.
“You don’t have to. I got this. And it’s dangerous.”
“Exactly. So why are you insisting on doing this?” she asked.
“Because I have to. It’s too late to turn back now.”
“Okay but you’re not leaving me here alone in this damn apartment waiting to find out if you’re ever coming home or not.”
“I would prefer if you stayed home,” Troy told her.
“If you leave me here alone, you won’t find me here, if and when you make it back home,” she threatened.
Troy knew Sade well enough to know that she did not make idle threats and that it would be a very bad idea to test her resolve. She had never been comfortable with how he earned his money and he knew what it took out of her to tolerate his criminal activities. After Reggie was killed, she hated it even more and had been persistently pressuring Troy to give it all up for weeks.
“Okay, I’ll take you with me if you promise to stay in the car,” he finally gave in.
“Fine. I’m going to take a shower and get myself together,” she told him before she shut the bathroom door.
Sade quickly stripped out of her nightgown and turned on the shower. She closed the bathroom door before she opened the cabinet underneath the sink to retrieve the contents of the plastic bag from the local pharmacy. While the boiling hot water that rained down from the showerhead filled the room with white steam, she took a deep breath as she opened the box and read the instructions that came with the at-home pregnancy test.
The hot water from the showerhead scalded his skin as Troy stepped into the shower with Sade. He always wondered why women liked the water so hot. He couldn’t understand how they didn’t boil their skin off. Sade moaned softly when he hugged her from behind and pressed himself up against her. Even with her hair wrapped up underneath an ugly shower cap, Troy thought she was absolutely gorgeous.
“What are you doing in here?” Sade asked playfully as she flirted and batted her long, wet, eyelashes at him as she looked back over her shoulder.
Troy had caught her by surprise because normally, he didn’t like to shower with her. He always complained that she liked the water way too hot. Sade was grateful that she had stashed the home pregnancy test back in the cabinet under the sink earlier, a few minutes before he decided to join her. She had good reasons for not being sure if she should share the results with him just yet.
Troy took her washcloth out of her hand and began to gently wash her back. He planted wet kisses on her shoulders and then on the back of her neck. Sade sighed and bit her bottom lip. He felt her nipples stiffen when her reached in front of her and fondled her breasts. With soap, her washcloth and his hands, Troy helped to get every inch of her body clean. When Sade could no longer endure the tease of his touch, she turned around to kiss him. As they locked lips and the water from the showerhead sprayed down on their faces, they both felt like they might drown. When they finally separated to catch their breath, Sade stared into Troy’s eyes and saw what he wanted. She wanted the same thing so she turned around and bent over in front of him. By the time she placed both palms flat on the tiles in front of her, he was already working his way inside her.
Suddenly, Troy didn’t feel how hot the water in the shower was as it continued to fill the bathroom with white clouds of steam. He was filled with lust that burned even hotter and he loved early-morning sex with Sade. She was wet but was still too tight for him to slide in easily so he took his time to work his tip inside her. Once the swollen head of his penis finally fit, Sade let out a deep moan to let him know that she felt him. Then he started pushing deeper, inch by inch until her body loosened up enough to accept all of him.
Troy had started off as the aggressor and didn’t expect Sade to turn the tables on him. Once their shower sex turned steamy and really heated up, she took over. Sade gave him dirty commands and then moaned with pleasure when he granted all of her requests. He had rarely heard her so vocal while they made love but it was exciting to let her dictate the pace and the positions. While down on his knees and using his tongue to taste her, he nearly drowned for real as she held onto his head. After he gave her an explosive orgasm, she returned the favor, got down on her knees and brought him to climax with her mouth. Then, even after she swallowed and completely drained him, she saw that he was still hard. She didn’t mind that he wanted more so she stood up, put one leg up against the wet wall, exposed her smooth vagina lips and invited him to take her again, which he did enthusiastically. Sade wrapped her arms around Troy as their hips worked together with the lock and key sexuality that their bodies formed to create euphoric ecstasy. They made love like they hadn’t seen each other in a long time, or as if they would never see each other again. Sade came and then Troy exploded inside her soon after.
2 - Desperation
In the adjacent bedroom, Derrick, the screaming woman’s grandson, lay in bed with both of his pillows pressed firmly to his ears. Her Alzheimer’s disease and dementia drove him insane daily but he couldn’t afford proper health care for her. A promise he made to his late mother prevented him from sending the matriarch of his broken family off to a government nursing home. He looked after his granny as best he could but most of the time that meant leaving her locked in her bedroom, screaming for help.
As Derrick lay on his back with the weight of the world on his chest, he was caught between trying not to cry and seriously contemplating suicide. While other men in their early-twenties went to college, partied, womanized and generally enjoyed their lives, he was cursed with poverty, stuck playing nurse and guardian to a dying woman. The issues with his grandma were just one of the many problems that plagued his life.
Mercedes heard the screams that echoed through the tiny apartment as she stood in front of the full-length mirror that was mounted on the back of the bathroom door. She had just thrown up almost everything she had for dinner the night before, her sacrifice to the porcelain god, also known as the toilet bowl. She lifted her T-shirt and examined her belly, checking to see if she had starting to show yet. It was her first pregnancy so she had no idea what to expect. She wondered why she was so fascinated because she had no intention of keeping it. She wondered if she was a monster because she didn’t feel the emotional connection with the tiny life growing inside her the way most women claimed to feel it. Her own mother had always called her an animal ever since she was a small child so she supposed that after a while, she simply became what she kept being told that she was. She had never truly felt loved so when Derrick met her and showed her genuine affection, she got swept up and swept away easily. That was how she found herself in his arms, under the same roof covered with peeling paint, totally trapped right alongside him in his difficult predicament.
Mercedes turned her eyes upwards as paint chips fell from the ceiling because of the brood of brats that lived directly above them. Every morning, as soon as they opened their eyes, they ran, jumped and trampled about like a small herd of elephants. Mrs. Crawford, the children’s mother, certainly wasn’t religious so Mercedes had no idea why the woman had kept every single creature instead of aborting at least a few of them. At the very least, she could have had her tubes tied. Mercedes always felt like a savage for thinking such thoughts until the noise above her head became unbearable and made her think them again. Even into her late forties, it seemed as though fertile Mrs. Crawford pushed another one out every summer and by the time one child became an adult and left the litter, there was always another to take his/her place. To make matters worse, they were all noisy and Mercedes didn’t know how that woman kept her sanity. Mercedes shook her head, pulled down her T-shirt to cover up her pudgy tummy and then went to the bathroom sink to brush her teeth.
They’re up early, Mercedes thought as she heard the couple that lived in the apartment next door fighting, as usual. A day didn’t go by where they didn’t scream, yell and sometimes throw things at each other. Sometimes it even sounded like they were moving furniture during some of their more epic battles. They hadn’t been living there long and Mercedes hoped they would be moving away soon, hopefully replaced by quieter folks.
Mercedes washed her face and as she dried it with a towel, the faint scent of marijuana smoke crept into the room.
“I guess Kahn’s awake too,” she mumbled.
Everyone in the building knew that Kahn, the gentleman who lived in the apartment directly below sold large amounts of weed to make a living. He also smoked pounds of it himself around the clock and with blackened lips, he would often joke that he had been consistently high for at least twelve years straight which the red in his eyes clearly confirmed. Kahn conducted his business quietly and peacefully so despite the aroma of good ganja that constantly seeped from behind his apartment door, no one ever reported him to the authorities. Many of the building’s residents were also Kahn’s customers, dependent on his product to help them cope with their pain, stressful lives and the type of depression that weighed on a person’s soul, the heavy burden felt keenly by all those who were trapped in the dirtiest parts of the city without any real hope of escape. Those who weren’t customers still clearly understood and followed the unwritten code that no one ever broke. Most of the folks who lived in the downtrodden community preferred the criminals to the police. It wasn’t as difficult as mainstream media made it seem to stay out of the way of those who lived outside of the law. If a person didn’t have business in the streets, the streets didn’t have business with them. On the flip side, the cops that patrolled the low income neighborhoods of the city were more like terrorists. They often harassed and gunned down the people they were paid to protect and serve because they believed that life in certain neighborhoods was cheap. That’s why no one ever called the cops about Kahn and his illegal weed operation. Where they lived, it was almost a sin to turn someone in to the police.
Thick knuckles banging on the bathroom door startled Mercedes as she waited near the toilet for another wave of nausea to hit her.
“What?” she yelled at the bathroom door, annoyed.
“Open the door Mercedes. I need to pee,” Derrick, yelled from the other side of the bathroom door.
Mercedes rolled her eyes at him after she flung open the shaky wooden door to let him in. She marched over to the sink to brush her teeth but kept her eyes front, facing the mirror as he pulled out his morning wood to relieve himself in the toilet next to her. She was tempted to look but that was the type of lust for him that got her into the unplanned pregnancy predicament she unfortunately found herself in. As of late, his sex had become the only redeeming quality she was able to find in him.
“I see you still have an attitude,” said Derrick. He kept one hand on the wall for balance and the other wrapped around the shaft of his hard penis for aim. He had grown up in a house full of women so from a very young age he learned that it was better to work on his aim instead of lifting the toilet seat and getting in trouble for forgetting to put it back down.
“Yes, and I’m going to keep on having an attitude until you get the money to take care of what you promised to take care of,” she complained.
“I’m trying to,” Derrick answered.
“Try harder,” she snapped at him. “I’m almost out of my first trimester so there’s not much more time,” Mercedes reminded him.
“Have you thought about maybe not having this abortion?” he asked after flushing the toilet.
“No, I haven’t,” she answered with a mouthful of toothpaste. She rinsed with warm water and then spat in the sink before she turned to him and rolled her eyes again.
“Why not? Maybe we should just have the baby?” Derrick suggested as he walked up to Mercedes and hugged her from behind.
“You can’t be serious,” she laughed sarcastically.
“I am,” he answered, feeling dejected and rejected because of the way she answered him.
“We barely pay the bills as it is. How is a baby going to help the situation?” she questioned him, sternly looking into both of their reflections in the mirror above the sink.
“I think a baby would make us happy. We need some joy around this place. I’m not worried about money. We’ll find a way,” Derrick answered in a desperate attempt to change her mind about aborting their child. He had also shared all of the same concerns about their dire financial situation after Mercedes first told him that she was pregnant but since she had set her mind on terminating the pregnancy, Derrick felt helpless. The idea of being a father for the first time had stirred something deep in his soul that he knew would cause him great pain if it was taken away. He understood that it was Mercedes’ body and ultimately her decision but he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about their unborn child.
“I could never be happy raising a baby in this shithole, with people above us, with people below us and more people on either side of us. This place feels like a coffin and I won’t do it. I won’t bring a baby into this world to live like this,” she answered with conviction.
“So, there’s no way to change your mind about this?” he asked as he rest his head affectionately on her shoulder with disappointment in his voice and the pain of what he was losing weighing heavily on his heart.
“No,” she answered coldly as she roughly shrugged him off and freed herself from his embrace.
Mercedes walked out of the bathroom and left Derrick standing there alone. She sensed his hurt but dismissed it without guilt. She didn’t believe that he deserved the child that was growing inside her. If he did, he would have done anything to prove to her that he could be a better provider. He hadn’t been man enough to get them out of the slum so she had absolutely zero faith in him being the type of father that was even capable of raising a baby that could eventually escape the environment they had been cursed to live in. There was nothing he could say to make her bring a child into the world to live in the poverty-stricken shadows of the city’s run-down, housing project buildings where so many people wasted away over time from hopelessness and despair. She wasn’t about to doom her own child to the type of life that could only lead to an ugly end eventually. Before she let that happen, she would send it to what she believed had to be a much better place.
After Derrick washed up and walked out of the bathroom, he heard Mercedes in the kitchen making breakfast but he didn’t bother to go in there expecting a plate. There had been a time when she first moved in with him that he would’ve woken up to find that she had made him breakfast in bed but lately, she had only been cooking for herself. Occasionally, she’d even prepare a meal for his granny. It had become painfully obvious how disappointed she was in him and to make matters worse, he hadn’t been able to find a way to bring any money home in a while, although he had tried. He had done things that would forever haunt him in futile attempts. Some of those things were so terrible that he could never share them with her although, when he saw the way she looked at him, he wished that he could, just to give her a glimpse of what he was willing to do to make their lives better.
Derrick slumped down in the old, lumpy, lint-covered couch and grabbed the remote control to see what was on television. He heard Mercedes suck her teeth and turned his head just in time to catch her roll her eyes at him as she sat down at the tiny table in the kitchen. His stomach growled and he ignored her.
“So, is someone going to pay you to sit there and watch TV all day?” she yelled from the kitchen.
“Justice is supposed to be on his way to pick me up,” Derrick answered while robotically clicking through the few channels that they had.
“Justice? That loser?” she asked.
“He’s got something lined up for me. I’ll be back with the money you need to take care of what you need to take care of,” he asked, pretending he didn’t hear the cynicism in her voice.
“I hope so,” Mercedes shouted from the kitchen. “Or you don’t even have to bother coming back until you do,” she mumbled as she ate her scrambled eggs.