As the Dad of a four-year-old who is the biggest book freak I know (I think she and her sister, who is two, own more books than I do) I know from fairy tales. Even so, I went and did a little digging into the classics. I read a dozen or so Grimm Bros. stories with great titles (The Girl Without Hands, Godfather Death, The Robber Bridegroom, The Devil's Sooty Brother, The Flail From Heaven, The Devil and his Grandmother, Death's Messengers) but so many have supernatural elements or are just too weird to make much sense out of. You can see why the classics became the classics. So I ended up doing a riff on a fairly obvious one. Hope it doesn't seem like a cop out. It was one of those instances where I hit on the idea and my fate was sealed. It was the only thing my brain kept coming back to. I went a tad over the 3000 word count but oh well. It was a rough guideline anyhow.
I hope you like it and I certainly look forward to what others come up with for this one. I'm sure you'll sniff out the "inspiration" story fairly quickly. Not like I was trying to hide it.
by Eric Beetner
They called him Coal Black because, as Yancy put it, “You the darkest nigga I ever seen.” Yancy came in just this side of shoe polish himself so when he called C.B. dark, you know he meant it.
The apprenticeship had been three years going. He’d come into the operation at the ripe old age fifteen, nearly over-the-hill for starting a career in gang-banging or super-modeling. C.B. chose the career with more guns and less bulimia.
He fetched coffee, kept the guns clean and did a lot of driving where the rule was to keep his fucking mouth shut. Hauled a lot of weed and uncut coke to drop spots and brought girls back and forth from jobs. Damn girls never once showed any appreciation. C.B. couldn’t cop a hand job, let alone a blow from those whores. Too exhausted after a long night’s work. For driving them all over creation C.B. took home ten bucks leaving the girls with $240, one-fifty of which went to Yancy and his partner Jay.
Keep the ten bucks, thought C.B., show a little mercy to the jerk driving Miss Daisy around. Not like they couldn’t see the rise in his pants every damn time.
C.B. was constantly out to prove himself. He wanted his piece of the pie, to move on up to the East side. He volunteered for jobs all the time. When a street dealer came up short of his monthlies, C.B. paid him a visit on his own and beat the boy toothless.
Yancy and Jay were unimpressed. They explained that if their street talent gets so black and blue they can’t work, that means more money off the table.
“Got to think long term, man,” Yancy scolded.
C.B. couldn’t look at the young dealer next time he came around, fucker sporting new gold teeth and smiling like C.B. did him a favor.
C.B. wasn’t looking to run the show, only wanted to be invited to the party. His knuckles longed to get bruised on bones, his finger pulsed with anticipation of squeezing off a round, his toes banged the inside of his boot clawing to dig into a gut or break a nose.
“Yo, man, got a job for you C.B.,” Yancy said.
C.B. sat up, waved the joint smoke away and tried to look alert. Like a man who could be depended upon.
“Fuckin’ Asians are crowding us again. I need you to follow some dudes. Find out where they go. Motherfuckers been selling in our neighborhood. Cheap shit too. Shit I wouldn’t let my dog smoke.”
“You want me to fuck ‘em up? Make sure they don’t come around?”
Yancy made a face like C.B. just told him he’d like to fuck his own mother. “No, nigga. I want you to follow them. That’s it. You stay in the car and come tell me where they at. That’s all.”
“Damn it Yancy, it’s my turn. I can do this.”
“You’ll get your shot little man. I knew your Daddy. I’m not sending you in to no place unless I’m sure you can get out. Shit takes time is all.”
“Man, all I got is time.”
C.B. grabbed his keys off the table, spun the ring around his finger once, contemplated saying more but thought better than to piss on Yancy like that. He left to do his chores instead.
Following the piece of shit Subaru for a half hour gave C.B. time to think. Mostly he stewed on forever being the wallflower, never asked to the big dance. He thought now might be a good time to jump ship to another operation, but anywhere he went he knew he’d be starting off on the ground floor. And shitting away what little cred he’d built with Yancy and Jay wasn’t worth it any more than making enemies of those two would be.
C.B. turned up the music and sighed, giving in to his fate as a servant boy for another night, probably another year.
When he brought back the address where the car with the two Asian dudes ended up, the boys were out. Instead C.B. found Yancy’s sister, Bobbi. She hung around her brother’s crib like a test of restraint, her skirts always too short, her tits always pushed up beyond limits. If you knew Yancy at all though, you knew not to go sniffing around his little sister. Her very presence made for an uncomfortable air in the room like Yancy’s ghost sat on your shoulder giving you the death stare.
“Hey Bobbi. You seen the boys?”
“No. Not for a while.” She sat on the couch and opened the can of soda she held. The sweet smell of marijuana hung in the room and Bobbi’s grin gave her away.
“Oh.” Too uncomfortable to make himself comfortable C.B. decided not to sit. When Yancy did come back he wasn’t about to be caught on the same piece of furniture as Bobbi.
“They runnin’ you ragged again? You look all chewed up.”
C.B. knew the effect Bobbi had on all the young brothers who came through. She seemed to use it for her amusement.
“Tell mama all about it.” Bobbi patted the couch, her slow stoned drawl sounding sexy as hell. C.B. didn’t take the bait.
There were no secrets between Bobbi and Yancy. C.B. could afford to decline her invite to the couch but keeping her out of business would have been rude. And rudeness was almost as bad as an ass-grab if Yancy heard about it.
C.B. explained his dilemma.
Bobbi repeated the bullet points of his story back to him. “So you got the address they want, but they won’t let you go on the run?”
“Sounds like you got something to bargain with.” C.B. tried to follow her logic. “They can’t get there without you, right?”
“I guess not.”
“So use that and make them let you in on it. Don’t give them the address unless the take you.”
Other than the obvious – poking a hornet’s nest where the hornets carried Glocks – he saw no downside to her plan. They might even admire his gumption. Of course, they might make a game out of how many of his ribs they could break with an aluminum baseball bat but C.B. chose to see the glass half full.
“Don’t mention it. I’m just your little guardian angel over here.” She eyed the dark-skinned brother like she was ordering off a menu.
“Well? You forget or something? Where’d those fuckers go?” Yancy asked.
“I’ll tell you.”
“Damn straight you’ll tell us,” Jay said.
“If,” C.B. started and immediately felt the air in the room go electric. “You let me go with you.”
Neither of his bosses said anything. C.B. resisted the urge to take it back and spill the address or blurt out that the blackmail plan had all been Bobbi’s idea. His feet were begging him to run, but he kept them planted, waiting for a response and expecting a bullet.
Yancy and Jay exchanged a look. C.B. couldn’t tell if they were choosing who would be the one to kill him for insubordination or if they were agreeing to his plan.
“Okay. You’re in,” Yancy said.
C.B. smiled. His turn at the big dance had arrived.
These weren’t the kind of guys you could go hug and slap high fives with so he ran down the address and the lay of land around the house.
“Don’t make me regret this,” Jay said, his stare hard and unsentimental.
“You won’t. I mean I won’t. I mean,” C.B. swallowed hard. “It’ll be fine.”
Yancy and Jay seemed less than convinced.
Three days later C.B. sat behind the wheel of the car retracing the Subaru’s route. He had a hard time concentrating on the road because his body stayed focused on the 9mm tucked in his jeans.
Yancy and Jay had run down the basic ins and outs of the night’s work earlier and since they got in the car had said nothing. C.B. was bursting to talk about it. Wild speculations ran through his head. Fear one second, exhilaration the next. Always it came back to fear like petals on a flower – he loves me, he loves me not. They’ll kill me, they’ll kill me not, they’ll kill me . . .
The Subaru wasn’t parked out front but the lights were on. C.B. checked the dash clock before he got out – nearly midnight.
Yancy and Jay had silently slid guns into their palms.
“You got your head on, C.B.?” Yancy asked.
“We appreciate the extra body and the firepower but if you fuck up on this we’re all going down. Understand?”
He nodded some more. He resisted the urge to reassure them with steel tough bravado of his readiness for the job, the hours of rehearsal and devotion to the team. His proof was in the doing. After tonight, they’d see that.
Right away C.B. feared he’d fucked up royally. The door swung on broken hinges as the three gunmen aimed at an empty room. The trio stood like Charlie’s Angels waiting for someone to call action.
No Asians in sight. No piles of drugs or stacks of cash. Just a suburban living room with bad art above an out-of-date couch and a grandfather clock hugging the wall that ticked out a beat nearly as loud as the heartbeats of the three invaders.
A logjam of excuses crowded out any coherent thought from C.B.’s mind. Escape, apology, suicide, and blame all fought to be the first idea to push through.
Sweat had never formed on C.B.’s lip faster.
Yancy dropped his gun down to his side, ready to chew out his young protégé. “C.B., what the f–”
Something like a canon went off and Yancy’s chest leaked red. He slumped backward and hit the broken door jamb as a second shot erupted from the darkness of the hallway. Jay clutched his chest and fell, leaving a bloody spray from the exit wound on the wall behind him.
C.B. hit the decks. He spun on the floor only to find Yancy’s body like a threshold across the open doorway. C.B. could hop up and make a run for it but he risked getting gunned down like a carnival game.
Wanting to keep moving, he crawled forward and made for the couch. Barely over his own breathing he could make out footsteps coming down the hall and into the living room.
C.B. moved to the right around the couch and then heard feet and felt them through the floor as someone circled the couch to his left. He’d gained an extra few seconds of cover but someone upright, armed, and who could presumably do first grade math well enough to know there was still one more intruder to find, stood only a sofa length away.
C.B. seemed genuinely surprised to find the gun in his hand. How had it gotten there? Was he some sort of magician? Then he remembered the three of them in the kitchen choosing their weapons like an old-fashioned duel. C.B. had again reassured them of his readiness. They should have shot him in the kneecaps and left him behind. At the moment C.B. would have preferred that fate.
The proving is in the doing, he thought. I made it to the dance, no time to be a wallflower. So he stood.
The man he saw wasn’t what he expected. Not Asian at all. Across the couch stood a large, make that extra large black man. A double XL gun in his hand and a XXXL scowl of hate and anger on his rocky face.
C.B. fired once, caught the gun hand. The big man didn’t scream at all. C.B. charged forward.
The canon fell to the floor as C.B. reached the man. Up close and personal he recognized the deeply lined face. Wallace “WALL - E” Price. Chief competitor to Yancy and Jay and a man with whom they’d forged and uneasy cease-fire years ago.
Also apparently a man smart enough to know if he hired Asian dudes to run his business creeping into Y&J’s territory there would be no link to him.
Smart. And big.
So big C.B. couldn’t wrap his arms around him. He’d expected to take him down to the floor, knock him cold or shoot him dead, whatever the moment called for, then make his escape.
Instead, he stood grappling with the giant like they were dancing at a ball. Wallace pushed his thick hand into C.B.’s face, smearing blood from the gunshot wound across the dark skin.
C.B. resorted to playground fighting, swinging his legs to try for a crotch shot, banging his forehead into Wallace hoping to break his nose. Nothing worked.
Wallace locked eyes with the young brother. “Who the fuck are you?” C.B. didn’t feel like giving out his vitals right then.
They waltzed across the room, past the couch, past a side table, C.B. unable to lift his arm up to fire his gun.
As they struggled and turned they both found themselves falling to the floor. Their progress had been halted by a lump on the carpet. Jay’s body.
Tripping over the nearly dead man sent them both down to an oriental rug. C.B. managed to fire a round but only made a loud noise and a hole in his jeans from the muzzle flash.
The dance had turned to a Greek wrestling match. Wallace got his blood-slick hand up again to C.B.’s face. The giant nearly hooked a finger in his eye but C.B. thrashed away, spinning his head violently to avoid being blinded. He inadvertently put his ear in the big man’s hand and Wallace pinched down on the flap of skin and the diamond earring in the center.
C.B. made another try at bashing his forehead forward and this time caught Wallace’s nose square on. He also jerked his skull forward fast enough that the grip Wallace held on his ear tore away a piece of flesh, and a bit of jewelry as a bonus.
Not showing Wallace’s restraint, C.B. cried out in pain.
Like a live wire C.B. bucked and thrashed. Wallace loosened his grip as his nose throbbed and the prey in his arms became wilder and harder to clench with blood soaked hands.
C.B. slid down the man’s belly and popped out of Wallace’s grasp, immediately ditching the gun and grabbing his half an ear. He screamed his way out the door, passing by the quaint suburban grandfather clock chiming midnight as he left.
C.B. felt Wallace reach out to claw at his ankles, trying to keep him in the room. “I’ll find you moutherfucker,” C.B. heard as he reached the car.
C.B. landed back at Yancy’s place wondering how the hell his fortunes had gone to shit so quickly. Bobbi came fast-stepping out of the back pulling on a thin robe over her brown thighs.
“Yancy? What happened?”
She stopped when she saw only C.B. The way he crashed through the door signaled trouble and now the sight of his face, as pale as he’d ever been which meant only a shade lighter than oil, and the smears of blood down the side of his neck from the missing earlobe gave off signs that things were worse than Bobbi could have expected.
“Bobbi, I’m sorry. It all went . . . fuck, it all went bad.”
She glanced over his shoulder through the open door checking for her brother and Jay. When they didn’t appear she knew better than to ask if they were ever going to.
C.B. hit the couch, slumped over and pressed hard against his ear, hoping the damn bleeding would stop and maybe that could help him formulate a plan.
Bobbi went back down the hall, came out ten minutes later dressed and holding a suitcase.
“You best get going too,” she said, but didn’t stop moving out the door.
C.B. knew where some money was hid. An operation like Yancy and Jay’s always kept around a decent amount of cash. Git-up-n-go money they called it. Might be enough to get a start. C.B. discovered that with the only world you’ve ever known suddenly off-limits the choice of where to begin again is a hard one.
Blood crusted around the missing piece of ear and caked like dried mud down his neck and into the collar of his shirt. Bits of it flaked off, dark and dry like his skin had been baked. Even with his eyes closed he felt the world go black.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been on the couch, passed out. The door still hung open, Bobbi’s perfume had dissipated. C.B. thought of the money. He stood.
A figure filled the door. Wallace stared at him, his fist clenched around something more than just anger.
“I knew those two niggas you left on my floor.”
C.B. tensed in his gut, thought he might puke. Of course Wallace knew who they were and of course he knew where they lived. C.B. had spent the night proving, in bright neon signs, the reasons he wasn’t ready for a job like this one.
Wallace held up his closed fist, opened his fingers like a rose blossom – the red coating his hand made a beautiful bloom. Pinched between his thumb and forefinger was a small triangle of dark flesh and a diamond in the center.
“Shouldn’t leave a rock this big behind. Must be worth something.” C.B. opened his mouth but no words came out. For the second time that night his brain had become clogged with information. Wallace did all the talking. “Know what I think? Piece of shit must be glass.”
Wallace stepped forward slowly, no gun out, no knife. Only a rock hard stare and a lifetime of putting down punks like C.B. kept the young man in his place. The way Wallace stared at C.B. as he advanced made him feel like he was being measured for a coffin.
Coal Black stood frozen, resigned to his fate. Never should have tried to dance with royalty. He belonged in the basement, soot on his face, sweat on his brow. A servant to the end.
Wallace held out the ear, reached forward and put it back where it used to attach to his body.
“It fits,” Wallace said.
C.B. watched as Wallace reached behind him and drew out the gun from the waistband in the small of his back. The same canon from before, still smelling of fresh gunpowder as Wallace rested it under C.B.’s nose.
C.B. closed his eyes, waited for the sweet ever after.