He broke the eye-lock and put away the cigarette packet ‘Chap, why you looking at me like I stole your money? Man, I am your friend here. Hey’
I looked away, trying to avoid the whiff of smoke that was making its way towards my nostrils. It had been a while since I smoked.
‘You care for?’ he asked, attempting to retrieve the packet again.
I waved my hand at him
‘You don’t smoke no more?’
‘No. Not really. I just don’t want no addictions. I don’t want to be like my father.’
‘Your father smoke?’
‘Drinks. Got him into jail’
‘Drinking or getting drunk?’ he smirked
‘One leads to the other’ I looked at my bandaged hand ‘I won’t be able to move around for a while’
‘Yeah, I’m sorry man. I’ll make it up to you. Soon as you’re up to it, we’d go clubbing big time. Rock some of ‘em white asses.’
‘I have no time for that Hans. Came here to find my uncle. Whaddyu say you know?’
He stared at me for a moment, and sucked in his cigarette then I watched the smoke filter from his nose. I suddenly felt the urge to smoke. I willed the urge away.
‘Calm it man. You’re in LA big boy. LA is life. You gotta feel. Don’t just drift in and drift out.’
‘You changed. A lot.’ I nodded towards the broken statue of the Virgin ‘You doing religion now?’
He looked at the statue and let his gaze linger there ‘Diane is’
‘Who’s she to you?’
I burst out laughing. He joined.
‘Mhmm’ he smoked calmly
‘For all of you guys or just you?’
‘Nah…she’s just mine. The boys work for me. They won’t dare touch her.’
‘She must mean something to you. You let her bring religion here’
‘She wasn’t gonna stay if she didn’t bring ‘em. Parents were Catholic devouts. Always talks about the Virgin
Mother like she’s the daughter of the fucking pope’ He threw his burnt cigarette on the hardwood floor and squashed it with his foot.
‘And I needed her. She was good at what she did.’
‘Which of them’
‘All of them’ We both laughed again and I relaxed somewhat
‘She’s an orphan. I liked her. Used to work at the club near the University.’
‘She must have been earning well. Why did she agree to come here?
‘Man she needed a home. You don’t get a home working in a club. She was dying for a kind of homestead.’ He stood up ‘You care for a beer?’
‘Yeah , would be nice’ He retreated into the kitchen and re-entered the sitting room almost immediately with two bottles of beer. He handed me one.
‘You don’t see this good a brew in Memphis. Good liquor’s in LA cos everybody’s drinking’ He gave a boisterous laugh. I didn’t join him ‘Everything happens in LA Chap.’ He took a long swig. I drank from mine too.
‘What broke her head and arm?’ I stretched out my bottle towards the Virgin Mary that by now looked nothing like Mary must have looked.
‘Why? Wasn’t that way when I got here.’
‘I told you I fought them. Smashed it right at their faces.’
‘Mm-hmm. They ducked on time. Poor Woman hit the wall and lost her head and an arm. Diane was howling all over the place, threatened she was going back to the club. I told the boys to make sure they had a new one with ‘em when returning tonight.’
‘You all work in the same place?’
‘What does that even mean? What do they do?’
‘They work at the club too. We work everywhere basically. I have a day job though, at the police station. I’m driving the police chief and running some menial work around the place.’
‘What about them. They don’t have a day job, do they?’
‘Nah..’ he grunted ‘Not a real one, except at times where I want them to run errands for me. Like today.’
I sipped my beer for a while and enjoyed it smooth trickle down my throat and the perfect slide into my belly where it lay down.
‘What kinda errands?’
‘You ask too many questions Chap’ he belched ‘Where did you learn how to do that? Some white folk has corrupted ya’ he dropped his empty bottle on the floor. It toppled over and rolled forward.
I chuckled ‘What kinda errands?’
‘You’d get to know in time’
I wasn’t stupid ‘It’s nothing legal, is it?’
I went on, buoyed by his silence ‘I mean, put two and two together, you live with four, five guys in a house you call yours. You have a girl who’s supposed to be yours alone. These boys can’t touch your girl and they have to follow your orders. You seem to be the head of some fishy trade here. I mean how else does a nigger quickly become a big man of fellow black folks?’ I finished the last of my beer.
He sat up and clapped his hands in my face ‘Bravo, bravo Chap! Perhaps finding your uncle wouldn’t be that hard after all’ he laughed, and this time I didn’t know why. I heard his laughter inside my head. My head ached.