Friday, March 5, 2010

Maurice Broaddus - King Maker - Part 2

Part 2 of King Maker
Seriously Extended just for you guys.
Enjoy.

Merle never imagined that a Timberland boot in his
midsection would be the defining moment of his day.
The abandoned shoe factory on the south side of
downtown had been declared a historic landmark, but
neither the city nor any foundation knew what to do
with it nor wanted to put up the money to restore it
for modern use. The owner languished with the albatross
of high property taxes, unable to sell it, so the
building existed in a state of limbo, between being and
not being, and thus was the perfect place for Merle to
break into and lay his head. With a flattened refrigerator
box as his mattress, visions of dragons, mist, and
silver-armored knights filled his dreams.
Waking with a start, disturbing the rats which
scurried along the broken bits of crates and skids,
Merle knew he had to make his way to the west side
of town.
“Sir Rupert?” he called out. A brown and black
squirrel, with a gray streak along its back, poked its
head through a hole in the bay door of the building.
“I had the dream again. I think the time has finally
come. He has returned.”
The squirrel sat back on its haunches, eagerly
working at an acorn.
“I know, I know. There have been several false
alarms, but this time I know it’s real.” Merle
wrapped his arms loosely around his knees and gathered
his wits while Sir Rupert ate.
The squirrel finished with the nut, turned, and ran
out the hole in the door.
“You’re right, you’re right. We mustn’t tarry.”
Scooping up his backpack and his black raincoat,
Merle slipped between the still-chained doors. The
raincoat doubled as his blanket, though its winter insert
had pulled free and with a few teeth missing
from the zippered lining, he was unable to reattach
it. Not much of a clothes horse, he kept his attire
simple. A furry hat, the kind a Russian soldier languishing
in Siberia would wear, a tattered black
sweater with matching jeans, and black socks with
no shoes. He had the most difficult of times keeping
shoes and suspected Sir Rupert, prankster that he
was, of nicking them at night. He pulled the raincoat
tight around him, buttoning it only at the middle
where a belt might fall. He already missed his normal
routine that had him checking in at the Wheeler
Mission, then panhandling outside of the Red Eye
CafĂ© – whose owner often let him push a broom for
a meal – and avoiding the police eager to sweep him
under the city’s rug. It would be little more than a
three hour haul to the west side that awaited him.
Merle kept to the bank of the White River which
was unusually low due to the lack of rain. Though
the White River was a natural ley line winding its
way through the heart of the city, another one lay
closer to Eagle Creek Park, along Breton Street.
Whatever called him, he knew his destiny had to lie
there. After three hours, he climbed up the embankment
to follow 38th Street west.
The Breton Court housing addition had changed
considerably in the quarter of a century since it was
established. Once a solidly all-white not-quitesuburban
enclave, it now languished as a
neighborhood in decline. Street lore attributed this
to two things. For one, the first black family moved
in a decade or so ago. Their white neighbors, not
wanting to let a bad element gain a foothold in the
neighborhood, harassed them to the point that a UHaul
truck was soon being loaded. Unfortunately,
they had made a slight miscalculation. The black
family was also seeking a respite from bad elements
and had more in common with their white neighbors
than not. And though they moved, they never
sold their town house in Breton Court. Instead, they
rented it out. They found the worst of the “bad elements”
they could find and let them live there
rent-free for six months. The white flight was more
of an exodus of Biblical proportions.
The second factor? The townhouses had since
been bought up primarily by three owners who, in
an act just shy of collusion, opted to let the property
run down, renting to Section 8 tenants or anyone
who had cash in hand. While the word “gentrification”
hadn’t been bandied about, their goal was to
sell off the whole piece for development and by
“development” they envisioned razing the entire
lot.
Merle plodded along the creek line which ran the
length of Breton Court from 38th Street. Sir Rupert
had long scampered off, perhaps to survey the scene
from his own vantage point. No matter, Merle recognized
layabouts and ne’er-do-wells when he saw
them.
“What you need, old timer? You look like you
need to get up.” A young man, more boy than man,
stepped toward him. His slightly faded blue jeans had
rolled-up cuffs and sagged just below his blue and
white striped boxer shorts despite the presence of a
skull-buckled chain through the belt loops. Rhinestones
dotted his black shirt.
“All’s not right in Who-ville,” Merle said.
“What you got, Dollar?” Another young man
sported a formidably sized pair of black Timberland
boots, smothered in a hooded jacket with a frog
across its back. Merle couldn’t help but think of the
cartoon with the frog singing “Hello my baby, hello
my darling” when no one but his owner was around.
“Don’t know. You up?” Dollar asked, never one to
let any potential sale slip past. The court had been a
quiet stretch of real estate until Dollar built it up into
a profitable venture. He was due to be moved up the
ranks soon, climbing the corporate ladder, to get
away from actually handling product.
“No, no. Just passing through,” Merle said while
he fished in his pockets as if he misplaced his wallet.
“What? We some sightseeing stop? Get right or get
gone.”
“I’m tired of these ghetto tourist types. ‘Let’s see
how the po’ folks be living.’” The Timberland-booted
man stepped nearer, a hulk of aggression needing to
be vented.
“Come on, man. Green said no drama less we had
no choice.” Dollar understood that in such stark economic
times, fiscal responsibilities demanded certain
precaution. Ever-present muscle was the cost of
doing business. But some of these young bucks were
too eager to make a name, thinking that being crazy
was the surest route to success. It was a headache he
didn’t need.
“Green?” Merle had hoped to never hear that
name again. He buried the gleam of recognition too
late.
“You know Green?” Dollar tilted his head with
piqued curiosity.
“Yes. Uh, not really. Maybe I’ve heard the name.”
“I bet his country ass is a snitch.” Mr Size 12 Boots
gave him an exaggerated sniff. “Yeah, he smells like
a snitch bitch.”
Merle waved his fingers in front of him as if with
a sudden display of jazz hands. “These are not the
droids you are looking for.”
“Are you making fun of me?” Before Merle could
respond, the young man punched him in the gut
with such force that Merle crumpled to the ground.
With blood in the water, the Timberland boot
slammed into his side three or four times for good
measure before the man bent over to grab him by
the lapels. “Yeah, I’m gonna give you a name to remember.”
“My man.” Dollar backed up a step or two, looking
over his shoulder for Green, instead spying another
approaching figure. “Ease up.”
“We got a problem?” Tall and straight, visibly muscled,
but not with the dieseled artifice of prison
weight, the man had the complexion of burnt cocoa.
His eyes burned with a stern glint, both decisive and
sure. Hard, but not in a street tough way, his walk
was street savvy, with a hint of the swagger of someone
who knew how handsome he was. Carrying
himself properly was a survival tool. Level chin,
squared up, not moving too fast which betrayed fear.
The streets hadn’t changed much in the years Merle
had wandered them. If your body language portrayed
you as scared, you became nothing but prey. Despite
the oversized black T-shirt with a Jackie Robinson
portrait, the young man wasn’t much older than the
other man-boys. He cold-eyed both Dollar and Mr
Size 12, though not so hard as to give Mr Size 12 a
challenge he’d have no choice but to respond to.
“Nah, we ain’t got a problem. Simply a misunderstanding,”
Dollar said.
“He in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Mr
Size 12 said. “He needed… directions.”
“He’s just an old man.” The man turned to Mr Size
12 with a weary disappointment. For a moment, the
two seemed to square off, an untold story between
them, but Mr Size 12 without displaying a measure
of backing down, withdrew nonetheless. It was as if
his spirit, if not his bearing, deserted him. “Come on,
man, he isn’t even worth the hassle. Things that slow
out here?”
“Come on. Fun’s fun, but we still on the clock,”
Dollar said.
The Timberland-booted man cocked his hand like
a gun, fired off a shot at Merle, then trailed Dollar.
“You all right? You know them?” The man’s gaze
followed them, disappointment rife in his eyes as he
helped Merle to his feet.
“All jackals and hyenas… without a lion in sight.”
Merle brushed the leaves and loose dirt from him,
though his many-stained jacket reeked of grime.
“Uh huh.”
“Who is my would-be savior?”
“My name’s King. King James White.”
“Merle.”
“Merle what?” King asked.
“At your service, oh King.” Merle bowed before
King’s steady gaze.
“Great.”
“Damn, son. You broke him off a piece for real.” Dollar
laughed as they made their way back to the spot.
Brief distraction aside, they were still on the grind,
though he always had his eye out for new talent.
“You ready to step up to this here game?”
“I’m here to put in work. I’m tired of playing out
here.” Prez knew what he was going to hear from
Big Momma. Not even in her house and already he’d
found the streets. But he’d been watching Dollar
from way back, a few years at least. Steady slinging,
always in fine clothes and just enough bling to set it
off. It was either the game or continue to attend
Northwest High School. Though the ladies were fine
up in there, ladies could be had just as easily out
here. No point in wasting everyone’s time killing
time and taking up space in school when he needed
to be out here doing dirt.
“Anxious to make a name for yourself.”
“Something like that.”
“I feel you. Look here, you hang with us for a
minute. Think of yourself as an apprentice or some
shit. See how we do. We got our eyes on you and
we’ll see how you handle yourself.”
“Yeah?”
They bumped fists. A new day, same as it ever was.

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