And the Game Goes On
A short story by D.F. Wharton
Bishop had guns. “These guns are suspect,” he said. “Don’t know the history on’em. They could’ve been used on another job. So be real careful with’em. You a good customer, so I’m bein’ real wit you. You’re interested? I’ll practically give’em away.”
The guns were spread on the hotel bed.
“Give’em?” said Rick.
“$300 for the lot,” said Bishop. “Got a 22, two 38’s, and 9mm Smith & Wesson semi-auto with 10 capacity mag.”
“$150,” said Rick, “and I’ll take’em off your hands.”
“It look like I got lipstick and a mini-skirt on t’you?” said Bishop.
“They rusty,” said Rick. “Do they even work?”
“$300,” said Bishop. “Take-it-or-leave-it.”
“Ok, $200,” said Rick. “You said yourself you don’t know where they been. One could be a murder weapon, all you know.”
“$275,” said Bishop. “And I’ll throw in some ammo.”
“$225,” said Rick. “Nobody wants your bumass ammo.”
“$250,” said Bishop, “and that’s as low as I can go.”
“Ok, $250,” said Rick, “but you gotta throw in the ammo.”
“My man,” said Bishop. “Always need a gun.”
“My soldiers gotta be packin’,” said Rick.
The phone rang, and Marcus picked up. “Yeah.”
“Where you at,” said Rick.
“Riverdale,” said Marcus.
“Don’t tell me you with that bitch again?” said Rick.
“Bitch?” said Marcus,” Who you callin’ a bitch? You the bitch. Her name is Vanessa. What you need to do is watch your mouth.”
“Ok, ok, My bad,” said Rick. “I didn’t know you was catchin’ feelings for her like that. Ain’t this Vanessa married?”
“Ok, detective,” said Marcus. “You wanna open up an investigation? My personal life ain’t got nothin’ t’do wit you. Matter’a fact, what you callin’ me about? Please don’t tell me you of all people is tryin’ t’be my life coach.”
“Chill bro,” said Rick. “Just surprised you in Riverdale is all. You usually ’round this way. I got a job for you is why I called.”
“I don’t really need your money right now,” said Marcus. “Some things is changing in my life.
“Don’t need money?” said Rick. “Who don’t need money?”
“Look, I’m busy right now,” said Marcus. “I’m not pressed for cash. I realize that you used t’me jumpin’ on every lill’ job you got for me, but times is changin’, you heard?”
“Bro,” said Rick. “We go way back, Right? Please. I got nobody else. I need you.”
A few beats passed in silence. “A’ite, then talk,” said Marcus. “I’m listening.”
“Ok, that’s better,” said Rick. “James’s handler got a hold of me. He’ll have somebody with the money at The Cobra, tonight at eleven.”
There was another three beats of silence.
“I want ten percent,” said Marcus.
“Damn,” said Rick. “I think somethin’ wrong wit my ears. Sounded like you just said ten percent.”
“That’s what’s up,” said Marcus. “I got a lill’ cash money now. Not desperate like I was. Ten percent—take it or leave it.”
“Oh, you big time now?” said Rick. “That money you got, I know that ain’t her money you talkin’ bout.”
“Look,” said Marcus. “We go way back, and I been workin’ for you for a long time. I’ll keep workin’ for you, but I’m gonna need to get paid more. Things is changin’ for me. I got me a woman now and we got a little cash. You dealin’ wit a new me.”
There were another three beats of silence.
“A’ite. That’s what’s up,” said Rick. “Say less.”
“From here on out, I get ten percent on what I collect,” said Marcus.
Rick was stuck. He didn’t have someone he could trust to go pick up $100g’s cash money from a professional burglar who was paying back a loan that had financed a heist. He would have to pay Marcus $10g’s for an hour’s work. But he needed somebody who could get the money and then get that money back to him. So many things could go wrong. It could be a setup, and he might have to shoot his way through a gunfight, or punch through a fist fight, or anything else that could happen. You couldn’t trust just anybody these days, especially with 100g’s, and Marcus was somebody that Rick could trust.
“Ten percent,” said Rick. “You worth every penny.”
“A’ite then,” said Marcus. “But get me a hammer. I don’t trust James for shit. I’m not messing with him unless I’m strapped.”
“Say less,” said Rick.
“I’ll be by in an about three hours, or so,” said Marcus.
Rick opened the door. “Welcome.”
Marcus walked in. “What’s good.”
“Same ol’,” said Rick.
Rick closed the door.
Rick waved his hand over the guns. “Got a 22, two 38’s, and 9mm Smith & Wesson semi-auto with 10 capacity mag.”
“Thanks for the narration,” said Marcus. “You practicin’ for an auction or somethin’?
“Nice,” said Rick. “You got jokes.”
Marcus picked up a 38 and spun the cylinder. “This’ll do.”
“My mans who supplies the guns said he don’t have the history on these,” said Rick. “So be careful.”
“I’m always careful,” said Marcus.
“Yeah,” said Rick, “Until you met this Vanessa.”
“Watch it,” said Marcus.
Rick held his hand up in the surrender position. “Just an observation.”
“Give me the clean kit,” said Marcus.
Marcus sat and wiped the gun down with CLP oil. He worked a bore-brush through each chamber and then the barrel and then wiped the gun down again. He tapped the hand-grip with duct tape so skin particles couldn’t get stuck on the grip. He loaded the weapon with rounds and stuck it in his waist and left the apartment and got on the train, heading to The Cobra, to pick up the money.
He was out on 125th, near The Cobra, when his phone rang. “What’s up, baby,” said Marcus.
“Nothing,” said Vanessa, “Just thinking about you.”
Marcus was distracted from the mission. He leaned back against a wall and relaxed, talking to his woman. His coat opened, so it was possible to see the pistol grip of his weapon. Just then, two cops on foot patrol walked by. A cop saw the gun.
“Gun!” said cop 1, and drew his firearm. “Get your hands in the air right now!”
“Drop the phone,” said cop 2, “and raise your hands into the air.”
Two guns were trained on Marcus. “Shit,” he said. What was he doing? How had he been out on a job and hadn’t paid attention to his surroundings? He knew he had to follow the cop’s directions, or he was a dead man. These cops were two white men that looked like they were in the Iraq war. They looked like they wanted to shoot somebody.
“Keeping your hands in the air, turn around slowly and place your hands on the wall.”
Marcus turned around and put his hands on the wall. He didn’t resist. A cop cuffed him and took the gun.
“What’s this?” said cop number 1. “I didn’t know it was hunting season.”
Marcus remained silent. He said nothing.
“Yeah,” said cop number 2. “Didn’t know it was that time a year. Whatcha out here hunting?”
“It’s not deer season?” said cop number 1, “is it?”
“Don’t think so,” said cop number 2, “Maybe rabbit? Whataya ya say, buddy? Are you hunting rabbits?”
“He don’t want to talk about it,” said cop number 1. “Poor thing.”
“Maybe,” said cop number 2, “his mamma taught him to not talk to strangers.”
“Is that so?” said cop number 1. “You think we’re strangers?”
“We’re sorry to hear that,” said cop number 2.
“Maybe we should get to know each other,” said cop number 1. “You wanna hang out with us?”
“Sure he does,” said cop number 2.
Through the entire process, Marcus only said two words: phone call.
Vanessa answered the phone and said, “Oh, sweetheart, are you ok?”
“Hey, baby,” said Marcus, “But I got some trouble. I’m at the precinct.”
He told her the deal.
“You just sit tight,” said Vanessa, “we are going to get you out of there. It’s so wrong what they’ve done to you. They’re not going to get away with this. The best defense lawyer in the country is on his way.”
Vanessa disconnected the phone and called her family lawyer and told him the situation.
The family lawyer got in touch with Stan Vogleman, the best and most expensive defense lawyer in the country.
“Are you sure your husband is going to be ok with this?” said Stan Vogleman.
“To hell with Roger Morris,” said the wife of Roger Morris. Roger Morris was one of the richest men in Riverdale. “He’s a fat disgusting slob of a creature.”
“Ok, Vanessa,” said Stan Vogleman, “I’ll get right on this.”
Stan Vogleman immediately got in touch with reporters from the NY Post, the Daily News, and the NY Times, and gave them a story about his client being racially profiled. Then he called the DA of Bronx County.
Having money and influence makes a difference.
“Sheila,” said Stan Vogleman to the DA. “How are you?”
“What do you want, Stan,” said DA.
“I just wanted to give you a heads up. There will be some news tomorrow about illegal racial profiling from a stop and frisk in all the papers tomorrow, my client being the injured person.”
“What is this? I don’t know what you’re talking about?” said the DA.
“My client found a gun on the street and picked it up so a child could not get it,” said Stan Vogleman. “He helped keep a gun off the street and out of the hands for criminals. Perhaps he saved a life. Yet he gets treated like a criminal because he’s black? It’s disgusting. You’ll go down for this.”
They talked a little more, then Stan Vogleman hung up and called the Reverend Shumpton, social activist and a leading member of the NAACP, and told him the situation.
“I can get my people behind your client,” said the Reverend Shumpton, “but what’s in it for me?”
“You know the Morris’s of Riverdale,” said Stan Vogleman. “Vanessa and Roger Morris? Vanessa is a believer in what you are trying to do in the name of equality and justice, Reverend. Marcus is also a very special friend to her. She is prepared to donate one million dollars to your charity—considering how things turn out, of course.”
“Say less,” said the honorable Reverend.
Reverend Shumpton rallied all the major television news networks within the hour. Volunteers from the NAACP that worked for the Reverend’s charity—the ones due to get the million—made posters and signs about Marcus, the new victim of racial inequality and social injustice and another victim of stop and frisk. They also made posters about Sheila Novak, the DA who was up for reelection soon. They were gathered and toting signs, marching around the precinct when the cameras from the television news networks got rolling. If this DA could not step in and help Marcus, then she should not be re-elected.
“Hell no, Sheila Novak has to go,” chanted the crowd, “Hell no, Sheila Novak has to go.”
Over and over.
Welcome to political maneuvering.
Sheila Novak, the Bronx County district attorney, looked on in horror. She was up for re-election in just three months.
The top lawyer in the Bronx was now on the side of Marcus.
Meanwhile, back at the precinct, the detectives interviewing Marcus had not caught on to the political winds.
“Where were you last week?” said the detective.
“Lawyer,” said Marcus.
“We got the murder weapon,” said the detective. “We know you did it. Just get it off your chest.”
The door to the interrogation room swung open, and Stan Vogleman walked into the room. “You have no right to question my client without representation.”
The Detectives looked at each other in confusion. What was Stan Vogleman doing here? Who was this Marcus? They had thought he was just another punk black hustler on the streets, somebody that no one would care about.
“My client has the right to remain silent until an attorney is present,” said Stan Vogleman. “You have repeatedly denied him that right. My assistant is drawing up a civil lawsuit against this department as we speak. My client’s civil rights have been violated. When I get through with this department, you’ll be finished.”
“Wait just a minute,” said the detective. “Just who—”
A secretary came to the door and interrupted, “You have a phone call, detective.”
“Take a message. I’m not—”
“It’s the DA,” said the secretary, “Sheila Novac.”
“What?” said the detective.
Stan Vogleman leaned back, grinning. Marcus had no idea what was going on, but he was smart enough to stay quiet, to go along.
“Don’t say a word,” said Stan Vogleman to Marcus.
“What the hell is going on here?” said the detective. He went out and picked up the phone.
“You want to tell me what the hell is going on over there?” said the DA.
“What?” said the detective. “What are you talking about?”
“If this Marcus, or whatever his name is, is not out by the time I get there, it’s your ass,” said the DA.
“We got a murder weapon and—”
“That your so-called perp picked up off the street to keep away from children,” said the DA.
“What the hell is going on here?” said the detective.
“Look outside the window,” said the DA.
The detective looked out the window and saw what was happening for the first time and realized that this Marcus had political connections.
The crowd: “Hell no, Sheila Novak has to go…” over and over.
People with these kinds of connections were above the law. Marcus was soon released. The DA apologized to Marcus on behalf of the NYPD.
These were the unwritten rules of democracy.
“I got a couple of pieces,” said Bishop. “They good. Nines. Just like you asked. Semi-auto.”
“The clips?” said Rick.
“Seventeen mag capacity,” said Bishop. “Everything is straight factory with these. They even never been sold.”
“Never been registered?” said Rick, “No history?”
“Nope,” said Bishop. “These is straight from the factory. Real talk. My inside man got’em for me. Never been sold.”
“Not like that last batch?” said Rick.
“No,” said Bishop. “Why you say that? Was there a problem?”
Rick took a deep breath. Something heavy in his facial expression. “It’s nothing. But the price on these? Too high. You got t’come down.”
“I don’t got t’come down on shit,” said Bishop. “You gettin’ the deal of a lifetime. I’m only comin’ to you first ’cause we do a lotta business. You don’t want’em? Fine. I go somewhere else. These are beautiful guns. Never been registered, you heard? Virgins. Never been on a job yet. These two guns are fifth generation Glocks. G17’s, my man. Brand new. One of these joints’ll set you back $800 retail. At least. I’m giving these things away at $500 a piece.”
“This ain’t retail. I’ll take both of’em off your hand for $800,” said Rick.
Bishop started packing up the guns to leave. “Maybe next time.”
“Wait a second,” said Rick.
A beat of silence.
“Either give me a G for the ladies, or I’m out,” said Bishop.
Rick took out a bankroll and started peeling off $100’s. He knew it was a good deal. He laid ten one hundred dollar bills in a loose stack next to the guns. Bishop took the money and counted it over and placed it in his billfold. Rick took the guns and wrapped them in a towel and put them in his backpack.”
“You gonna tell me what happened?” said Bishop.
“What?” said Rick.
“About the last batch I sold you,” said Bishop. “I saw something in your face. What happened.”
“I’m still tryin’ to get to the bottom of it,” said Rick.
“Stop playin’ games wit me,” said Bishop. “Talk.”
Rick took a deep breath. “Long story short, Marcus gets stopped and frisked by cop save-a-city on 125th, and he got a piece I gave him, a piece I got from you, on’em. So they take’em in. Well, turns out the gun is not only hot, but it’s the murder weapon from an unsolved a few months back.”
“You think I didn’t already know this?” said Bishop. “The streets know everything. Everybody just waiting t’see what you gonna do about it.”
“Ok, yeah,” said Rick. “But it gets complicated. He makes his one phone call to this new girl that he’s seeing. This rich-white-Jew lady up in Riverdale. She not just rich, she crazy rich, like multi-millionaire rich. She got all these connections. Supposedly he didn’t talk.”
“Get the fuck outta here,” said Bishop. “You believe that?”
“She dispatches some fancy defense attorney,” said Rick, “who knows the judges, the DA, even Reverend Shumpton, and every prosecutor in the city. Talk about a turnaround with luck. His lawyer gets the DA to step in and let’em go and clear’em!”
“Just like that?” said Bishop.
“Just like that,” said Rick. “And get this—the lady is married.”
“Do you hear yourself?” said Bishop.
“Yeah,” said Rick. “Crazy, right? She got a thing for brothers, the street kind. Hustlers and such. Marcus don’t talk about it, but from what I’ve gathered, they met at The Spot up in Harlem and been kickin’ it ever since.”
“That’s an interesting story and all,” said Bishop, “but there could be more to the story.”
“Yeah,” said Rick. “I know. I’ll find out.”
“Find out,” said Bishop, “like, yesterday. Pronto. Where is he now?”
“He hasn’t called me back,” said Rick. “Last we talked he was up in Riverdale with the lady.”
Both men were quiet.
“You think he talked?” said Bishop.
“I don’t wanna think so,” said Rick.
“Shit,” said Bishop. “That man flipped. They had him with a murder weapon? That dude talked! He workin’ for the G right now. Bet he wearin’ a wire and all that. Probably a warrant out on you already.”
“It’s possible,” said Rick.
“Possible?” said Bishop. “That’s what’s up. How you know the G didn’t follow you here?”
“What I look like?” said Rick. “I was careful. Nobody followed me. And look, I’m tellin’ you, there’s a chance this lady and her lawyer got’em out. Money’ll get you anything.
“That’s the dumbest bullshit I ever heard,” said Bishop. “You better handle this.”
“Just chill,” said Rick. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Chill?” said Bishop. “They could be waiting for you right now? They get you on Marcus’s dime, and the guns I just sold you? You gonna sing my name like Marcus sang yours.”
There was three beats of silence.
“I’ll handle it,” said Rick.
“Rick,” said Bishop. “Handle this ASAP.”
And just like that, a death sentence was pronounced.
“Where are you going?” said Vanessa.
“I got t’go make sure things is straight wit Rick,” said Marcus.
“Lover, please,” said Vanessa, “just stay in bed with me. He’s the reason behind all this trouble in the first place.”
“Listen,” said Marcus. “What you did for me, that was amazing. I never seen the system work like that. In my favor. But Rick? He not gonna believe what happened. He gonna think I snitched.”
“What do you mean?” said Vanessa.
“That I gave him up,” said Marcus. “That’s the only way he’s gonna believe I could’ve gotten out, and that the lawyer and the media and everything else is a diversion by the cops.”
“But, I’ll tell him what happened,” said Vanessa. “I’ll tell him everything.”
“Baby,” said Marcus, “He not gonna believe you.”
“Why can’t you just let it go?”
“He might try to kill me. You want him coming here?”
“He’ll be paranoid,” said Marcus. “Even if there’s a chance I might’ve snitched, he’ll wanna put me down. I need to take the fight to him.”
“Put you down?” said Vanessa.
“Baby,” said Marcus, “money can’t buy public opinion that easily on the streets. What works in the courthouse don’t always work in the hood. You’re kind of people jus’ can’t seem to get that. On the streets, we got our own system of checks and balances. That shit Stan Vogleman pulled off? You donating that money to Reverend Shumpton? All the media being manipulated to put the pressure on the DA because it’s an election year? Nobody is gonna believe that shit. They gonna see the news and jus’ know somethin’ is up. They know me out there in the streets. Rick? He gonna see it like this,” Marcus was silent for a beat, thinking, and said, “I had a murder weapon, I’m black, I got a record, and they let me walk. That don’t level with the checks and balances on the streets. I would’ve had to have givin’em somethin’ better. Rick puts guns on the streets. I give him up to make a deal for myself. That’s the only way I walk. That’s how they’ll see it. I had to have snitched. There’s no other way. They not gonna let me live.”
Marcus made his way to Ricks. He wasn’t kidding himself. He was strapped.
Marcus knocked on the door.
“Who is it,” said Rick.
“I know you see me,” said Marcus, waving to the peephole.
“You by yourself?” said Rick.
“Yeah, nigga, let me in.”
Rick let Marcus in, and Marcus told him the story about what happened.
“You tellin’ me,” said Rick, “—let me get this straight—wonder white woman swoops down from Riverdale with a lawyer and money and suddenly the DA and the entire system just lets you walk? And you expect the streets to buy that?”
Right then, Marcus knew that Rick was going to kill him. That even if Rick believed him, Rick would still kill him because the hood would think Rick was soft, that he didn’t have the heart to take out Marcus, that he was exposed. The underworld was watching Rick t’see if he did what was right, not according to the law of the courts and the rich white ladies of Riverdale, but according to another law—the law of the jungle.
Marcus said, “I need to take a leak,” and helped himself to the bathroom. With the bathroom door shut, both men checked their weapons. There was an eerie silence. The sound of water dripping from the faucet into a pan in the sink echoed mysteriously in measure. Rick leveled his gun at the bathroom door and tried to breathe easy. Marcus listened carefully. He racked the slide on his semi-auto when he flushed the toilet, hoping to disguise the noise. Marcus leaned against the wall to the side of the door, took a breath, and swung the door open without stepping through, keeping cover.
Rick fired as soon as the bathroom door opened. The bullet tore into the wall above the toilet. Marcus slid down on one knee and leaned over and fired three shots into the heart of Rick. Rick dropped to the floor, blood filling his mouth, flowing over, down his chin and neck. Marcus put on his hoody and got low.
“Baby, I have t’get out a town for a while,” said Marcus. “Baby?”
Vanessa was still in bed. She was under the covers. She hadn’t moved or responded when Marcus came into the bedroom. Marcus had too much on his mind to notice immediately.
“I’ma need some money, ok? Baby?”
Vanessa was stone silent.
“Vanessa!” said Marcus. He went over to and pulled back the sheets.
She was dead. The gunshot had blown her face apart.
Then the report of a gunshot. Marcus felt like someone had hit him in the back with a sledgehammer, and then he felt nothing. The bullet tore through his spine and bounced around inside of his chest like the ball in a pinball machine, destroying his major organs. The round finally stopped in his stomach. He lay there on the floor looking up at Roger Morris, the husband of Vanessa.
“I’m sick of your kind. You niggers have ruined my life!” said Roger Morris. He started crying, his fat body shaking all over. He grabbed his dead wife and shook her violently. “Why didn’t you listen to me! Why!
Then Roger stopped and stood up. Marcus was almost dead, still looking at Roger Morris, unable to believe what was happening.
“See what you have done?” said Roger. Then Roger put the gun in his mouth and blew himself into the fourth dimension. Marcus watched the brain matter of Roger Morris sliding down the wall for the last moments of his life.
Then he died.
Bishop had guns. “I got what you need. Semi-autos, revolvers, shotguns, riffles, everything. I got some grenades to. Army shit.”
“What I’m gonna do with grenades?” said Jackson.
Jackson had taken up the demand that Rick had left behind.
Rick, Marcus, Vanessa and Roger Morris—it was like they had never existed, yet, in a way, they did still continue to exist. But not so much them as what they were chasing—the illusions. The illusion were still out there and people were still willing to chase them.
The game would go on, with or without them.