It’ll Never Happen
A short story by D. F. Wharton
I had an hour till school started, and the fiends were already trying to look me up. I could always count on a fiend to get me my money. If fiends wanted money as bad as they wanted dope they would be the richest people on planet Earth. A dope fiend hunts money all day, at least until he gets enough money to pay me.
“Please, can’t you spot me?” said the fiend, “just this once?”
I smacked him across his face like a bitch and said, “Don’t you ever get it confused. My money comes first. Always.”
“I’m sorry, man, I jus’ been up all night and I’m in pain, and I knew your—”
I slapped him again. “I don’t got time for your bullshit. Get the fuck away from me and don’t come back till you have my money.”
After the second slap, I saw a flash of something in the fiend’s eyes. I pulled my Ruger .380 and let it hang by the side of my leg. “Want your ticket punched? ’Cause—”
“Nah, nah, I’m gonna get your money—”
“—you can check out any time,” I said. “All you got to do is fuck wit my money and it’s over for you. For good. Feel me?”
When you got good dope, the fiends come from all over the city. A fiend got his wick blown out on an overdose from dope that I sold’em, and I thought that word would get out, and the fiends would stop coming to me. But it had the opposite effect. Word spread that I had that heat. Next thing I knew there was a line around my block like I was serving food to the homeless at a soup kitchen. It’s like they want to die, or at least walk as close to the ledge as possible, and peer down into the abyss to get a look at the fourth dimension.
After I served up some fiends I went back to the apartment, cash in hand. Marvin was making breakfast.
“Yo,” said Marvin. “How you doing with attendance at school?”
“A’ite,” I said.
Marvin, my big brother. He was 24. He had a talent that made him money legally—he could draw. He worked at a tattoo parlor on 149th near where we lived. But it was hard to make much money as a tattoo artist in a parlor owned by somebody else. If a tattoo artist wanted to work in a parlor owned by somebody else he had to pay a heavy monthly fee to the owner and a percentage of the take. We made up for what was lacking by selling product.
“Good,” said Marvin, “I’m’a need you to miss school today. I got the call from Long Island. I got some customers I need to finish up with today, so I need you to pick up the product.
“Say less,” I said. “You got buy money?”
Marvin gave me the loot.
“Kareem,” said Marvin.
“You got the grip?”
“Kinda question is that?”
Pops was upstate at Clinton on some football numbers. He had a while to go on a fifteen to thirty beef, but at least he was on the second half of his sentence, as long as he could stay out of trouble. Marvin and I kept his book full. I knew his booking number by heart. Marvin was around 15, I think, when the law packed up our pops. We were separated for a long time. Marvin had never graduated, but when he turned 21 he was making enough to keep up with the rent, and he was able to get custody over me. I was 14 at the time.
Dad had friends that put Marvin on in the drug game—something dad never approved yet happened anyway—a number of years back. Back then, Dad was cool with it, but lately, he was changing, sending more signals to us that a life of crime wasn’t worth it. During the last visit, he was really sounding different. I don’t wanna say dayroom, but it is what it is.
“You ever read fables?” he said.
“What?” I replied.
“Short stories, you know. Usually, there’s an animal as a character. It conveys a moral.”
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” I said.
“Ok, ok,” Dad said, “hear me out. Once upon a time, there was this dog. The dog had a bone. He loved that bone. Carried it clamped between his teeth. But there was this one time when the dog saw his reflection in a pool of water, and he dropped the real bone that was in his mouth to get the one that he saw in the reflection, losing the bone that he had forever.”
There were two beats of silence. “You get it?” Dad said.
“What the fuck is you talkin’ about?” I replied.
“Hey,” said Dad, “Watch your language.”
“You never cared before,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “You right. I guess I’m going through some changes. It’s hard to explain. But never mind all that. Think about the bone that the dog lost. See, you’re supposed to be the dog, and your freedom is the bone. The point is, you already got the bone. Get it? You already got everything you really need.”
“No,” I said. “What’re you talkin’ ’bout? How we gonna cop the new Jordans? Or the new PlayStation games? Or get new, fresh gear? How m’I gonna show up to school lookin’ like a bum?”
“How you gonna show up t’school if you locked up in here wit me? And when you in here ain’t none a that fly shit you got gonna matter anymore.”
“Shit, I’m good. I got this.”
“Alright. Just let me leave you with this thought—the bone that is already in the dog’s mouth is your freedom. You already have it. The bone the dogs sees in the reflection, in the water, is all the stuff you think you need, but really don’t: the stuff you don’t have—the fly clothes, the new sneakers, the games, the extra cash to spend, the whip, big-baller-status in the eyes of other people, whatever. Do you see? When you go for that illusion—the bone in the reflection of the water—you let go, and can ultimately lose, the bone you have, the only one that’s real: your freedom. Feel me? You give up what’s real for the illusion, and then one day you have nothing. But then it’s too late, understand? You already let go of the bone you had, to bite at the fake bone in the reflection.”
“Alright,” I said. “I see what you sayin’ and all that, but we need things. We got bills to pay and—”
“I’m not putting you down, son. Please don’t get me wrong. You gonna do what you got to do, and I’m proud a’you and Marcus. I understand. It’s just, you don’t need everything you think you need to live. I’ve learned here that you don’t need much. I didn’t realize that before. But now? I’ve learned that a man can live with practically nothing. A lotta the things I was chasin’ after out there as a free man was shit I never really needed anyway. What I thought I had to do was some shit I didn’t really have to do. But I guess I learned that too late. I wish I could explain it better, but I guess I don’t know how. I guess experience is the only real teacher there is.”
I heard what my dad was saying, but I felt like he was the one who didn’t understand. I was out in the streets. I needed to represent. I needed cash money. I couldn’t be out here wearing bumass clothes and not havin’ bread. He was basically telling Marcus and me that we ought to get out the game altogether and just work level jobs and what? Be monks? Live in a monastery? We had a thing going. We were making good money. We wasn’t gonna up and quit just like that.
I took the LIRR to Slope National and messaged the connect. With my Ruger .380 on my waist and the buy money in my backpack, I made my way to room 116 at the Howard Jonson hotel. I had done this many times over, so I had no reason to feel the tension I was feeling, but in this moment, I was feeling shaky.
I played it off and told myself to be cool.
With my head buried under my over-sized hoody, I entered the hotel. I gave the special knock on the door and said the password and stepped back so the seller could look through the peephole. The door opened, and I entered the room.
It was somebody different. I went farther into the room and noticed a second man. I pulled back my hoody.
“Where’s the regular guy?” I said.
“He doesn’t work for us any longer,” said the fat man.
“We had to let him go,” said the skinny man with a twitch in his face.
“Ok, well, we didn’t have any heads-up on this sudden change of events,” I said. “This is not good business. We regular customers.”
“Do you have the money?” said the fat man.
“Do you have the product?” I said.
“It is close by,” said the skinny man, and the side of his face twitched again.
“My friend has the money,” I said. I’m supposed to contact him to let him know that everything’s good.
“Are you sure that the money is not in the backpack?” said the fat man.
The skinny man grinned and his face twitched. The fat man leisurely walked to the door and leaned his back on it, blocking my exit. I moved quickly but smoothly and pulled the .380 from my waist.
“You’ll get it first,” I said to the skinny man. There was that twitch again. “Slowly bring your hands up where I can see them.”
“You gonna give me a count down?” said the skinny man with a twitch.
We raised our guns in unison, but I was a touch faster and shot him in his neck. The shot he fired went into the ceiling. Then I dove to the floor, turning toward the fat man in the air as I fell. He got off a shot and I felt the bullet zing by my ear and, from the floor, I fired and shot him twice in his chest. While they were on the floor dying, I grabbed the bag that was on the bed and checked the window. It wouldn’t open a regular way, so I grabbed the chair, pulled the hood back over my head, and opened the window in an irregular way.
Once through the window, I scanned the terrain. Nothing. There was a construction site just ahead with work in progress. The loud sounds of power tools and heavy equipment filled the air. I had no doubt that some 911 calls had been made and reports of gunshots fired in the hotel. I tried to be cool. I walked quickly yet tried not to attract attention.
There was a Target just ahead and across the street. At the street crossing, two police cruisers passed, running the red, lights flashing and sirens blazing. I took my pullover hoody off and dropped it in a trashcan. I got a different shirt and ball cap out of my backpack and changed my appearance. I stuffed my backpack in the bag I took from the fools in the hotel room.
In the Target bathroom, I checked the bag. The dope was there. What the fuck? What didn’t they just make the sale? They weren’t the first to pay for underestimating me. I bought some new gear and a new backpack and went back to the bathroom and changed again. I came out in my new, conservative apparel and made my way to the Starbucks by the Target exit.
“Hi, would you like to try our new Iced Caramel Cloud Macchiato or Iced Cinnamon Cloud Macchiato?”
“No thanks, A small coffee. Black.”
“Will that be all for you today?”
I paid and strolled out of the Target, sipping my coffee. Outside I caught a cab to the Steven Wilder bridge. I paid the cabbie and walked over the bridge and tossed the .380 in the Passages River. On the other side of the bridge, I caught a different cab to the LIRR. I rode the train to Fordham Rd and made my way back to 149th.
“Fuck,” said Marvin after I got him up to speed. “I should’ve never sent you up there alone.”
“I’ve made the buy plenty of times on my own,” I said. “No way you could’ve known something was up.”
“I got too comfortable. It’s the nature of the business. I should’ve known better.”
“I handled it.”
Marvin looked at the product and the money. “Fuck,” he said.
“Wonder what happened to the original connect?” I said.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” said Marvin. “I got t’get you out of town.”
“What?” I said.
“Kareem,” said Marvin. “You just caught two bodies. I understand you were careful, and you handled yourself well, but you don’t know what cameras were where, or who saw what. We’ve got to get you out of here.”
“This my hood. This where I live. I’m not goin’ anywhere.”
“You 17. You get caught? you spending life behind bars.”
“That’s what’s written on the price tag, but I don’t plan on checkin’ out at the register.”
“Do you hear what you’re saying? Can you hear yourself? We’re talking about life behind bars!”
“You know what, Marvin?” I said, “You got a skill. You can draw and do these tattoos and get money. Me I can’t do shit. What the fuck can I do? I’m a hustler. It’s the only thing I’m good at. I’m just Dad, is all.”
“Oh yeah?” said Marvin, “I got news for you. Dad isn’t a hustler anymore. He’s a seamster. He works a sewing machine for the state of New York in the Clinton Correctional facility. He’s been trying to tell us that he could have learned to operate a sewing machine before dealing dope and never gone to jail if he would have known better. I haven’t been listening because I like the extra money. But you know what? I can finally understand what he was saying.
“Damn,” I said. “You gettin’ soft, big bro. I don’t know what you thinkin’, but I’m thinkin’ ’bout all them fiends out there gettin’ my money. Our money. They don’t give it t’us, they just gonna give it t’somebody else. Feel me?”
Marvin just got quiet and stared off into the distance. I could see that there was something wrong in his eyes. What was going on? What was happening? First, pops starts talkin’ crazy, and now Marvin? Didn’t he hear what I just did? I’m superman out here! Nobody can stop me! Me? Get busted? Didn’t he see what I had just done? I’ll never get busted. It’ll never happen.