“Well, if that’s ya system, you need a new one. We built up too much to let it all crumble over small change. You should be tryin’ to stay as far away from the precinct as possible. All it take is for you to get locked up with the wrong mafucka. They get to talkin’, and ya ass is done.”
Tim’s words sent chills through me.
“That’s true.” Raj sighed.
“Well, that’s one thing I ain’t gotta worry about. I keep thorough niggas around me, and I only do dirt with niggas who I can trust, like my baby,” Kenny said, grabbing hold of my waist as I stood beside his chair with dishes in my hands. “She took the charge for me,” Kenny lied.
For once, I was relieved that he didn’t tell the truth. I mean, I didn’t expect him to tell his group of criminal friends that his girl made a deal with the cops and became a snitch to get us all off. But then again, you never knew with Kenny. He liked to brag so much that sometimes he bragged about the wrong things to the wrong people. I was glad that this wasn’t one of those times. I could imagine Tim interrogating me about it and then puttin’ it in Kenny’s head to watch out for me. I could imagine him saying something like, If she’ll rat on one nigga, she’ll rat on them all.
“Word?” Raj questioned, seemingly impressed.
“Wow,” Sammy uttered.
They all looked at me, including Tim. What were they expecting my reaction to be? I wondered. Was I supposed to be upset or content? Well, from how Kenny put it out there, like it was a good thing, I decided to give a half grin.
“And I owe her big-time for it, too. You can’t get most niggas to do no shit like that for you these days.”
“Fuck no,” Sky said.
“Naw, you can’t,” Tim added. “You got you somethin’ special.” He sized me up as he picked his teeth with a toothpick he’d apparently brought with him to the dinner meeting.
“Plus,” Kenny continued, “if mafuckas know one thing, they know not to turn on me. I’d like to think that I put in enough work on the streets to make that clear by now, kna mean?”
“You never know, though,” Tim persisted. “Just chill on the extra shit, that’s all.”
“I am. I ain’t tryna keep duckin’ the law,” Kenny said. “That’s why my man Sammy is here tonight. He goin’ help me put my money in the right place so I can walk away from the game before my time run out.”
“So does that mean it’s a yes? You want to move forward on the mobile-park deal?” Sammy took the opportunity to get back on topic. And I was so grateful he did. I didn’t know how much more my nerves could take talking about our arrest.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” Kenny concluded.
“Great. I’ll call you in the morning to get started on some paperwork.”
At that, Sammy closed up his laptop and put it in its bag. He excused himself from the meeting. I walked him to the door, retrieved his coat and scarf, and saw him out.
The guys spent a few more minutes talking about what was going on in the streets and in their trade, and then they ended their meeting.
It was a quarter to eleven by the time they left. I had unloaded the clean dishes and put them away and was reloading the dishwasher with the dirty ones we had just used when Kenny came into the kitchen.
“What did you think about that meeting?” Kenny asked me.
“Interesting,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.
“Yeah? You ain’t never sit in on one of them before.”
“I know. I was goin’ to go to Saks since I had got a text message from Walter, the guy who always help me when I’m there, tellin’ me that they had some new Chanel shoes come in in my size,” I lied.
“Why you ain’t go?” Kenny probed.
“By the time I finished cleaning this damn house, they were closed.”
“Yeah, well, I’m glad you was able to be here for this one, anyway, ’cause I’m goin’ need you to help me wash my money.”
“How?” I quizzed.
“Well, for starters, you goin’ be workin’ down at the shop come Monday,” Kenny informed me.
“Huh?” I was confused.
“I got you a job at Vic’s.”
I didn’t say anything, but my face still read confused.
Kenny elaborated, “How else are you supposed to get information for the po-po? That
the deal you worked out, right?”
“All right then. So anyway, once you get in good a little bit, I’m goin’ need you to have all them niggas in there givin’ you they checks in exchange for cash. I’m goin’ use them to clean up my money.”
I nodded again. “Okay,” I nonchalantly agreed, then turned my attention back to the dishes.
I felt Kenny staring at me for a little while before he disappeared from the kitchen. My nerves were shot. It seemed like Kenny was testing me. Like he knew I was up to something by sitting in on his meet
ing. And to top things off, he took it upon himself to get me a job at the shop, like that was his way of making sure I was telling the truth about the deal I’d made with the police. Kenny was no dummy, and as I finished cleaning up, I wondered if he was on to me already. A part of me believed so, but another part thought he was just baiting me. Either way, I had put myself in a situation from which there was no turning back. So my only choice was to play it all the way out to the end.
his was the first day I had got up out the bed without pressing Snooze on the alarm clock since I’d been assigned to opening the shop for my dad. He used to have the manager open and close the shop, but after he lost the keys for the fifth time, my dad asked me to do it until he found someone more responsible.
I jumped in the shower, and, instead of throwing on some jeans, a long-john shirt, and Timbs, like I normally did, I put on a navy-blue-and-white D&G hoodie and some D&G high-top sneakers. I sprayed some Creed cologne on me, and even went in my watch box and put on one of my Rolexes. Even though Leah wasn’t my girl, I felt the need to impress her. And it wasn’t on no shady shit, either, because I wasn’t the type to mess with my homie’s girl. Plus, I had a girl myself. It was just something about women, period, that made me want to clean up for them. At least that’s what I was telling myself.
I walked out of my apartment and took the elevator down to the lobby. I dropped my nineteen-hundred-fifty-dollar rent check in the box near the mail room. I had to pay an extra fifty dollars because it was late. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the money to pay it, it was just that I had been workin’ so much, pulling a lot of all-nighters, that I forgot about it. And it wasn’t like I got a bill in the mail reminding me about it. Plus, I was in no hurry to pay nineteen hundred for a place that I didn’t own. And every time I thought about that, I told myself that I needed to start lookin’ into gettin’ a house. But the only thing that kept me from doing that was Tara, the girl I had been messin’ with for the past year.
Her lease was almost up on her apartment, and she’d been hintin’ around to me that we should get a house together. I was feelin’ her and everything, and we’d had a pretty good relationship, but I was cool on gettin’ a crib with her. I mean, I always told myself that I would wait ’til I was thirty before I settled down with a chick. So technically I had five and a half more years left for that. But I did tell Tara that if she kept playin’ her cards right, she might be able to get me to do it in three.
Real talk though, I did want to get my own crib and well before three years. I just didn’t feel like hearin’ Tara’s mouth if I did.
Why don’t you want a house with me? You do plan on havin’ a future with me, right? You been livin’ on your own since you were nineteen, I’m sure you’ve had plenty of time to see what it was like. What, do you have something to hide?
Just thinking about it gave me a headache, so fuck it, rent it was.
“Good morning, Mr. Freeman,” the doorman greeted me as I was on my way out of my building.
“What’s up, Ed?”
“Just tryna keep warm, that’s all,” he said.
“I hear that,” I said. “Have a good one.”
I walked outside, and Ed’s words had meaning. The January cold smacked me in the face, then seemed to wrap itself around my body as I walked to my truck, parked in my reserved spot.
I drove to the shop, which was only a twenty-minute commute from my apartment in Manayunk. And although a short distance, somehow I was always late getting there, no matter how early I left. However, that morning was different. I got to the shop at seven forty-five, fifteen minutes early, even after first stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts. And the one day I had my ass there early, Brock wasn’t there to witness it.
I opened the overhead door and walked in the shop, then I unlocked my dad’s office. I turned on all the lights and the heat. The shop was so big, it would take every bit of an hour to warm it up. In thinking about that, I felt proud. My dad had started as a chaser like me and ended up opening and operating one of the largest body shops in the city. I respected my dad for his ability to do that and even more so for being in business for almost eight years. That was unheard of where I came from. Most businesses fail within the first five years, let alone black-owned businesses. Where I was from, black people closed their businesses just as fast as they opened them. So I really looked up to my dad as a business owner. He was the exception to the rule.
It started to warm up, so I took off my leather Polo coat and hung it in a locked closet in my dad’s office. I got comfortable, eager to start the workday. I organized the desk that sat diagonal from my dad’s; that’s where we’d put Leah. I was in the midst of making copies of claim forms when I heard Leah’s voice.
“Hellooo,” she sang.
I got up out my dad’s chair and walked out onto the floor.
“What’s up, Leah?” I greeted her. She gave me a warm smile as she walked over to me.
I hadn’t seen Leah since the night she and Kenny got locked up, and it had been dark and she was at a distance, so I didn’t get a good look at her then. Before that, it had been a few months since I’d seen her. I almost forgot how bad she was. She had a body like Meagan Good’s, petite with big boobs. Her face was exotic-looking, like a
black Kim Kardashian, and she had this sweet, innocent charm about her that reminded me of Lauren London.
Her long hair lay like silk on top of her short black mink. She had on black skinny jeans that stopped right at the top of a pair of black-and-gold Chanel shoes. When she took off her coat, I couldn’t help but notice her breasts as they pressed against her silky gold blouse. She had these gold bangles on her arm that grabbed my attention when she held her coat out to me.
“Where should I put this?” she asked.
I reached out and grabbed it. “I’ll lock it in my dad’s closet for you.”
“Thanks,” she said, rubbing her hands together. “So, where’s everybody? Or am I that early?”
I turned to go back in my dad’s office to put Leah’s coat up. In that time, I forced my mind off the fact that Leah was a perfect ten and on to the fact that I had a girl whom I supposedly loved.
“They should be walkin’ in here any minute. Everybody usually gets here between eight and eight thirty,” I told Leah. And as hard as I was trying to avoid looking at her, the sparkle from the gold-and-diamond Rolex she glanced at on her wrist brought my eyes back to her.
“Oh, okay, so I guess the games will begin within the next twenty minutes.”
“Well, actually,” I said, hanging up Leah’s coat, which smelled of a sweet fragrance, “I wanted to start showing you some stuff now.”
Leah’s eyes lit up. “You’re gonna be training me?”
“Yeah. Why you ask like that? You don’t think I can?”
“No, no. It’s not that. I’m just relieved. I mean, I know you, so I feel comfortable making mistakes around you. If it were somebody else, I would be nervous.”
“Oh. Well, it’s nothing to be nervous about. It’s a pretty easygoing position. And once you get the hang of it, it’ll be nothin’.”
“I just haven’t had a job in so long,” Leah said.
“Well I’m sure it’s like ridin’ a bike.” I pulled Leah’s chair out and gestured for her to sit down.
Still wearing a smile, she did. I began to explain her duties to her.
“Basically, your job will be to answer the phones and handle the customers who come to set up claims. And what that means is, they were in an accident and they have to call their insurance company to report it. They’ll get a claim number, and you’ll put it in their file, along with their contact information and their signature, giving us permission to fix their car…”
“O-kay,” Leah sang, as if I was giving her too much to take in at once.
Taking the hint, I assured her, “It’s not as confusing as it sounds. You’ll catch on.” Then I continued, “When you answer the phone, you say, ‘Hello, Alliance Collision. How may I help you?’ You know, professional.”
“For now until you learn the business, just take messages. Most people will call to check the status of their car. They’re on a white-board that hangs on the wall out on the floor. For instance, it’ll say somethin’ like ‘2006 blue Maxima waiting for adjuster’ or ‘2007 white Pathfinder parts have been ordered’—stuff like that. If a car isn’t listed on there, just ask someone on the floor for a status. If no one knows, ask my dad. But my dad should be a last resort. If he’s not here, just tell the customer you will find out and give them a call back.”
“Okay.” Leah nodded.
“Other calls will be from adjusters wanting to come out and inspect cars. All you gotta do is take the date and time he’ll be out and put it in the customer’s file.”
“And the adjuster is the person who works for the insurance company who comes out and writes estimates, right?”
“Okay, I do remember some of these terms from when Kenny used to chase.”
“I told you, it’s like ridin’ a bike.”
Leah smiled, and I smiled back. Then I proceeded to give her the business. “If you get a call from a customer wanting to pull their car—”
“Wait a minute,” Leah said. “What do you mean, ‘pull their car’?”
“Oh, that just means they want to come get their car from here and get it fixed somewhere else.”
“Just give the call to my dad. If he can’t convince them to keep the car here, then he’ll give you a list of charges. Then you’ll get back on the phone and tell them what it’s goin’ cost for them to get their car. The last important thing you’ll probably handle on the phone is callin’ insurance companies and having them send the checks here.”
“What do you mean?”
“After the estimate is written and the work is pretty much done on the car, the insurance company sends a check that covers the estimate to the customer or their insured. But sometimes the customer will keep the check and we lose money fixing their car.”
“How can the customer keep the check? Then they won’t get their car back, right?”
“Naw, they won’t get their car back, but some of them don’t care. They see that money and get greedy. So it’s best for us if the insurance company either sends the check straight to us or makes it payable to us along with their insured.”
“Okay. I understand that.”
I started showing Leah the forms that go in new customers’ files when Brock walked in.
“It must be as cold in hell as it is outside! This nigga not only here, but he’s workin’ and it’s not even nine o’clock yet!” Brock exclaimed, making sure to stomp the snow off his boots before walking in my dad’s office.
“Naw, hell ain’t goin’ see a cold day unless you come in here without talkin’ shit,” I shot back.
“And you dope-boy fresh, too? Fuck cold, the devil down there mafucka ice skatin’, I’m sure!”
Leah glanced at me and then at Brock.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Leah,” Brock said. “I don’t usually talk that way around women, but Nasir caught me off guard. He ain’t the most punctual mafucka. And he damn sure don’t be smellin’ good.”
“Ain’t it a filled-up trash can around here with ya name on it?”
“Yeah, and I’m goin’ get to it, too, soon as I finish with the Newport that also got my name on it.” Brock took a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket as he started walking out of my dad’s office. “The power of the p.u.s.s.y,” he sang under his breath.
“You gotta excuse that nigga,” I told Leah. “His mom was smokin’ while she was pregnant with ’im.”
Leah chuckled and said, “Y’all funny. Working might not end up being so bad.”
I chuckled with her and started to ask what she meant by her last comment. I mean, I thought she wanted to work. I thought that was why Kenny came down here askin’ me to put her on. But I brushed it off as the shop started to fill up with workers—my dad being among them.
“What’s up, Nas?” My dad stopped to shake my hand before reaching his desk.
“What’s up, Dad?”
“What’s up, babe?” my dad then greeted Leah.
“Good morning,” she said.
“So you’re our new secretary?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Well, hopefully you can bring some order to this place,” my dad said. “Is Nasir takin’ it easy on you? He’s not movin’ too fast, is he?”
“No, he’s movin’ at a good pace,” Leah replied, glancing up at me with that pretty smile of hers. Our eyes locked on each other’s for a moment, as if we were in a trance. Then we both snapped out of it and turned our attention back to work.
My dad took a few calls, made his rounds, and collected whatever checks had come in the mail over the weekend, and he left. Meanwhile, I continued to show Leah everything she needed to know. I helped her deal with a couple customers who called or came in. I even got to show her how to set up a claim. She did all right, too. Overall, the day went pretty good—fast, too. I expected it to be long and boring sitting at a desk, but it wasn’t. Between Brock and his jokes and Leah’s company, I didn’t feel frustrated like I usually felt when my dad asked me to do something other than going out in my truck chasing. In fact, it felt good not to be cooped up in the truck, listening to the nonstop crackling and beeping of the scanners. And being in the warm shop definitely beat freezin’ my ass off at a hit. Don’t get me wrong, I could never get used to the nine-to-five office routine, but for that one week I had to train Leah, I looked forward to it.
Tuesday through Thursday went a lot like Monday. I got to the shop early enough to heat it, light it, and make it comfortable for Leah. I walked her through calls and claims and even got the chance to show her the procedure for when a car is released. And at the end of the day I’d lock up the shop, see Leah to her Jaguar CXF, and go my way. But Friday was different—not in terms of it being a payday and the start of the weekend, but in terms of how it ended for Leah and me.
I closed and locked my dad’s office door. Then, after walking out of the shop, I pressed the Lock button on the garage-door opener. As the overhead door dropped to a close, I looked around and noticed I didn’t see Leah’s car.
“Where did you park today?” I asked, planning to see her to her car.
“I didn’t drive today. Kenny dropped me off.”
“Oh. So he’s pickin’ you up?”
“Yeah. We made plans to go out straight from here, and we didn’t want to have to take two cars,” she explained.
“Oh, that’s what’s up,” I said, concluding that was the reason Leah was dressed extra nice that day. She looked good every day, but that day she went hard. She had on a gray fitted skirt that went to her knees and had a small split up the back. Tucked in it was a white blouse that clung to her stomach and breasts but was loose in the sleeves. A few Chanel pearls fell onto her cleavage. And her hair was up in a sexy ponytail. She had on some ankle boots with a high heel that put definition in her calves every time she took a step. And instead of her black mink she wore a chinchilla wrap.