Five Months Earlier
was in bed asleep when Kenny came home with another one of his schemes. Over the last year that we’d been living together, this had gotten to be a pattern. But usually he was a lot nicer and sweeter than he was tonight. He used to cuddle up with me and tell me what he was planning and what role he needed me to play. He always had a hustle up his sleeve, too, and it seemed his hustles got grander with time. He went from using stolen gas cards and fillin’ niggas’ tanks up for half price to sellin’ phony master’s degrees to rich white kids who’d rather spend their tuition on crystal meth and prescription drugs. And who do you think sold them the crystal meth and pills? Kenny, of course. He was a one-stop shop. But I couldn’t knock him. His desire to make money afforded me a pretty good lifestyle. And if I didn’t love him for anything else, I loved Kenny for taking care of me.
“Get up, Leah. Get dressed real quick,” he demanded as he turned on the bedroom light and pulled the covers off me.
I lifted the eye mask off my eyes and asked, “Why, what’s the problem?”
“I got something I need you to do. Hurry up, ’cause everybody outside waiting.”
I sat up in our California king bed and scooted over to my side. I reached to pick up my cell phone off the charging station that sat on the European-style nightstand. I looked at the screen. “It’s one o’clock in the morning,” I whined.
“I know what time it is. Hurry up and throw some clothes on,” he said with energy, as if it were one in the afternoon.
He grabbed me by my arm and assisted me out the bed. I closed my eyes again, hoping he would get the hint and leave me alone. He didn’t. Instead, he walked me into our master bathroom. I could tell because of the warmth I felt under my feet from the bathroom’s heated marble floors. He ran some water in the sink, splashing some on my face. Finally, I opened my eyes. Immediately upon doing so, I grabbed the remote out of its base off the wall and dimmed the recessed lights. My eyes weren’t ready for bright lights just yet.
“You’re wetting my hair!” I complained. “You know I don’t get perms no more!”
“My bad. I just need you to move like you got somewhere to be. Time is money.”
“What do you have me doin’, Kenny?” I asked, drying my face with one of the hand towels I kept rolled up in a basket on top of the marble counter.
“I’ll explain it to you in the car. Get dressed and meet me in the garage,” Kenny said before he left the bedroom.
I threw on a Juicy sweatsuit and some UGG boots. I unwrapped my hair and ran my fingers through it to allow the loose curls to fall into place. I didn’t have time to put on makeup, so lip gloss and eye
liner it was. I grabbed the gold Gucci handbag I had carried earlier in the day because it already had my wallet and keys inside. Otherwise, I would have taken one of my Louis bags, which would have coordinated better with what I was wearing.
I dragged my feet down our long hallway, smirking at the black-and-white pictures of just about every gangster known to man—out-laws both fictional and non—that lined the walls. Every time I passed the artwork, I found it amusing that characters like Vito Corleone and Scarface were Kenny’s role models. I walked past the front staircase and proceeded to the back one, which led straight to our kitchen. When I got downstairs, I stopped at our Viking stainless steel refrigerator and grabbed a Red Bull. I needed a boost of energy. There was no telling what Kenny was going to have me do. I walked into the three-car garage, and Kenny was in the passenger side of our 2007 Range Rover Sport. The engine was already running. I heard the doors unlock and took that as my cue to get in. I opened the driver’s-side door, which required extra tugging since it had been side swiped a few months before. We had had every intention on getting it fixed, but Kenny wound up spending the check from the insurance company. He claimed he was going to put the money back in an account, but he never did. He blew the money, which was something he did frequently. That was why every so often he would rely on a scam to build his stash up again. He was good at making money but not so good at keeping it, and therefore he spent more time chasing it than enjoying it.
Kenny and I had been together for a little over three years—longer than I ever expected. When I first met him, I figured he would be somebody I would just have fun with. You know, go to the movies, have dinner, just kick it with him from time to time. But it so happened that eight months into our relationship my older sister’s drinking became a nuisance. We would fight constantly over her stealing my money and personal belongings. I wanted to move out of my mom’s house so that I wouldn’t have to keep going through drama
with my sister, but I didn’t have enough money to be on my own. Moving in with Kenny was my solution. And what started off as a friendship-with-benefits type of situation turned into a courtship.
“Why are we driving this? The door hardly opens, and it’s all crashed up on the side.”
“’Cause we’re gettin’ rid of it tonight,” he said. “Now, drive to Fifth and Spring Garden.”
I put the SUV in drive and pulled out of the garage. Once on the street, I noticed a car following us. As I turned left on Saint Asaphs and sped up, the other car did, too. I took the winding road around until it dead-ended at City Avenue. I got in the left-turn-only lane, and sure enough the car behind me did the same.
“Who’s that behind me?” I asked, looking in my rearview mirror.
Without budging to see who it was, Kenny responded, “It’s my cousin Dahwoo and his girl. Once we get to where we’re goin’, they’re goin’ to get in the backseat.”
“Okay, so what’s goin’ on? Why did you get me out of bed?”
“Listen, we goin’ drive to a low-key area where it’s not a lot of traffic. Once we get there, we goin’ get out the car and stand to the side while my man drive the car into a wall—”
“What?” I cut him off.
“Just listen. Then you goin’ get back in the driver’s seat, I’m goin’ get back in the passenger seat, and Dahwoo and his girl goin’ get in the back. You’re goin’ call the cops and tell them you were just in an accident.”
“Are you serious?” I asked him, unable to hold my peace any longer. “And what’s the point in doing this?”
“For one, I’m tired of payin’ a note and insurance on a car we don’t drive. For two, I’m goin’ get a cut off the check the insurance company goin’ write to fix it. And for three, me, you, Woo, and his girl goin’ rack up on case money.”
“Oh my God.”
“Now, listen,” he continued. “You goin’ tell the police that you were driving and a car turned left out of nowhere, hitting you on your driver’s side, forcing you to turn the wheel suddenly. You wounded up losing control and you ran into the wall.”
“I don’t understand, Kenny. What are you having me do?”
“It’s simple, Leah. Just do what I say and trust me, all right? We don’t have a lot of time. Soon the streets goin’ be flooded with niggas leavin’ the clubs. Now Nasir is goin’ be there to tow the car. Act like you don’t know him other than the fact that he’s a tow-truck driver and you want him to tow your car.”
“How is it that you always manage to drag Nasir in the middle of your schemes?”
“Damn, do it fuckin’ matter?” Kenny snapped. “You startin’ to get on my nerves with all the questions and doubts and shit.”
I sighed and said, “Okay. Whatever.” And left it at that.
, I thought. He was so sweet and reserved. And Kenny seemed to take advantage of him, always getting him to do favors for him. I never understood why Nasir wouldn’t just tell Kenny no sometimes. It was obvious that he wanted to. But he seemed to be as controlled by Kenny as I was these days. It wasn’t always like that, though. When I met Kenny, he and Nasir were real cool. They both chased car wrecks for Nasir’s dad, Vic, who owned one of the biggest and most popular auto-body shops in Philly—Alliance Collision, up on Cedar Avenue. They made good money, too, no less than two thousand a week, and that was when it had been a slow week. But about two years ago Kenny decided he wanted more, so he started dabbling in the drug game. His older brother Tim was a known dealer, and when he got locked up, he needed somebody to take over for him and hold him down until he got out. Kenny seized the opportunity. And instead of just holding his brother down, he made moves to bring his brother up. He realized that the more variety you had, the more money you could make. So he didn’t limit himself to weed and cocaine like his
competitors did. He sold everything from crystal meth, ketamine or Special K, roofies, and acid to pills like codeine, Roxys, and Oxy-Contin. After a short while he no longer needed the money he got from chasing, but he didn’t quit because chasing was his front. Plus, he benefited from being able to store his drugs in Vic’s shop. It seemed like he had become a kingpin overnight. And with that title came loads of money, notoriety, and haters.
Kenny’s newfound fame and fortune made him a target not only for the police but for the stick-up kids who robbed drug dealers for a living. Eventually Kenny drew a whole lot of attention to Vic’s shop. He made it hot. Cops would ride by frequently. Vic was suspicious and would ask Kenny if he was hustling, but Kenny would deny it. But one day the shop got robbed at gunpoint by some guys in masks, and all of Kenny’s drugs were taken, proving Vic’s suspicions. After that Vic fired Kenny. He was pissed off that Kenny had jeopardized his employees’ lives and his business, and Vic told him that if he ever put anything of Vic’s in harm’s way again, he would kill his ass.
Kenny been doin’ the drug thing full-time ever since. And he had gotten so good at it that when his brother Tim came home from doing a seven-month bid, Kenny wound up being his boss.
Nasir, on the other hand, kept with the chasing and seemed to try to stay out of trouble. But Kenny tends to keep him in some shit, always dragging him in on his illegal activities.
I got to Fifth and Spring Garden at a quarter to two. It was deserted, not common since it was up the street from Fuzion nightclub and down the street from Transit and Palmers. There weren’t even a lot of people in Silk City diner, which sat right on the corner. Being a weeknight in January had everything to do with there being so few people out, I was sure.
I pulled over while Kenny’s cousin Dahwoo parked his older-model Pontiac Grand Prix on a side street off Fifth. He and his girlfriend, whom I had never met before, got in with Kenny and me. We
took Fifth Street a couple blocks up, passing Green and then Wallace Street until we were at Fairmount Avenue.
“Pull over right here,” Kenny said.
What the hell? Of all hoods to do what we were about to do, why did Kenny pick this one? I was uneasy about executing Kenny’s plan as it was. But on top of that, we were doing it smack dead in the hood. My nerves were shot.
I quickly pressed the lock button when I noticed a tall, slinky guy who had a bounce in his step walking over toward our car. He was dressed in dark colors and looked like he was a smoker—untrustworthy.
“He’s cool,” Kenny said as the guy approached my side. Kenny leaned over my seat to give him a handshake through the rolled-down window. Then Kenny instructed us all to get out of the car. The guy then got in the driver’s seat. Meanwhile, the four of us stood on the sidewalk while the guy deliberately drove my Range Rover head-on into an abandoned building’s wall. Seeing that it wasn’t hit hard enough, Kenny instructed the guy to do it once more, this time with more gas.
The guy did what he was told, completing his part of the plan. After the car was successfully planted into the wall, he jumped out and approached Kenny, who placed some money in his palm. The guy then took off through an alley. At that, we were on. We all followed Kenny’s lead as he got back into the car.
Unlike Dahwoo’s girl, who was giggling and telling jokes in the backseat about what had just gone down, I didn’t find anything funny. I actually had a bad feeling about everything. Then it dawned on me that Kenny, Dahwoo, and I were committing a federal crime with this chick, whom I was sure none of us knew well enough to trust. I mean, that was my first time meeting her, and just last week Dahwoo was calling a different girl his wife. For all we knew, this bitch could have been an undercover. She could have been setting us up. Or even if she
wasn’t, if we got caught, who was to say that she wouldn’t rat us all out to save her own ass.
My negative thoughts got the best of me, and suddenly I panicked and froze up, forgetting everything I was supposed to do.
“Call the police,” Kenny yelled, taking me out of paralysis.
I pulled my cell phone from my pocketbook and dialed 911. It was a good thing I was in a panic because it made my reporting of the accident sound so damn real. The dispatcher said she would send out an officer.
Chasers arrived on the scene in packs—some in tow trucks, others in cars. That was the game for you. I could just imagine their being posted at a location nearby, listening to the police scanners waiting for an accident to be called. And when they heard Fifth and Fairmount, they all hauled ass over here, hoping they would be the first to the scene and be able to convince me to let them take my car to a body shop they were contracted with. And they were deep, too—about eight of them, all representing a different type of chaser. One was big and grimy looking, dressed in a Dickies and Timbs, getting out of a dirty eagle claw with chipped lettering on the side. Another one was clean-cut, dressed in a black mink coat with a pair of black Nike boots, Rock and Republic jeans, and black Gucci scully. And he had the nerve to jump out of a Mercedes-Benz CLS. Niggas killed me, chasin’ out of luxury cars. But I must admit, if I was really in an accident and I didn’t already have chaser in mind to take my car, I would have chosen to go with dude in the Benz. I would’ve felt more comfortable handing my car over to somebody who didn’t look like he needed money rather than to somebody grimy-looking. Maybe it was just me, but I felt like somebody who didn’t need money would be less likely to rip me off.
Among the chasers was Nasir, who was the one I agreed to let tow my car, of course. The other chasers were angry that Nasir was on their territory. See, Nasir chased out West Philly and Southwest, in the vicinity of his dad’s shop. So for him to be up North Philly run
nin’ a hit was frowned upon. And generally chasers respected the boundaries—not necessarily because it was the right thing to do, but because it wasn’t logical for a chaser to run a hit that was far from where he posted up. For one, he could program his police scanner to receive calls only in the specific district in which he chased. And for two, a chaser never knew what would be at a hit and whether it was worth his showing up. For example, it could be a minor fender bender, a totaled vehicle, or an unfounded, which meant there was nothing there at all. So it wasn’t worth it for a chaser to drive to an uncertain situation far away and risk missing a real hit close by.