“I wonder if the Lord will forgive me or bury me a G
I couldn't let my adversaries worry me
And every single day it's a test, wear a bulletproof vest
And still a nigga stressin’ over death”
—2Pac, Lord Knows
“About time, motherfucker,” Shawty Dub said as he opened the door. “Gotta get a shithole room and wait on yo ass.”
“I wanted to keep this deal between us,” I said, stepping past him into the cramped, motel room and pushing the door closed. He didn’t back up and we stood there for a moment as close as lovers or enemies.
He moved first, hiding his concession with a smile, a laugh, and a thump on my back. “Why I gotta rent way the fuck out here ‘stead of staying on the Strip?”
“Vegas has more cameras per square inch than any place in the world,” I explained. “And my business? Is my business.”
“A’ight,” he said.
“Now, who the fuck is she?” I pointed at the young, black girl lounging on the bed.
“Who? Oh, HO?” He rubbed his bald head and laughed. “This my girl, dude. She’s my big discovery—The Habitual Offender. The HO—get it?”
“Yeah, I get it. What the fuck’s she doing here?”
“She’s with me,” he said. “She’s cool. You can trust her—like I trust her.”
“Maybe, I don’t trust you.”
He laughed, not getting it.
But she did. “Who the fuck is this motherfucker, Shawty?” she asked, tossing the remote aside and crossing her arms under her breasts.
“No names,” I said.
He nodded. “He’s the man, baby. He’s like a…concierge. He gets people things.”
“So, he a fuckin’ gopher. We rented this piss-smelling shithole ‘cause a errand boy said so?”
“Fuck you,” I told her.
Though I hadn’t moved, Shawty put his hands on my chest as if to stop me. His tattooed biceps flexed. “Hey, hey, hey, hey,” he said, flashing me his grilled grin. After patting my chest, he faced her and said, “He’s not a fucking gopher, baby.”
“Sound like a gopher to me. You said he gets people shit. That’s what a gopher do.”
“No, no, not like that. This man has skills.” He sat next to her on the bed. “He gets you…like weird shit. Shit you wouldn’t know how to get on your own. You know that baseball bat I got?”
“Yeah,” she said.
He reached for her cheek and the hair-extension ponytail draped over her shoulder. “The one that belonged to Al Capone?”
She turned her head away from his touch, picked the remote back up, and punched buttons with a sparkled talon. “I thought you was bullshittin’,” she said.
“No bullshit—it belonged to Scarface Al. And this is the man who got it for me.” He arched his thumb over his shoulder at me.
But she didn’t pull over, just shrugged and craned her neck to keep watching the television. Standing, he gave me a look that said—bitches, whattaya gonna do?
I ignored him and sat at the table by door. I pulled the edge of the thin, green curtains aside and glanced out the window. “Let’s see it,” I said.
“Just like that? Don’t want no drink? No smoke?”
The curtain fell back into place. I looked at him blankly.
He chewed his lip until he tasted words. “Oh,” he said, rushing over to his suitcase. “Listen to this track. It’s her follow-up single. It’s gonna bust the chart like it got pulled over for DWB—driving while black.”
“The merchandise,” I said. “I want to see the merchandise. You were bitching about me keeping you waiting; so, I’m not going to keep you waiting any longer.”
“S’cool.” Shawty zippered the case closed and looked at HO.
She rolled her eyes and pursed her glossy lips, before climbing over the bed and opening the closet doors. A single, metal briefcase sat alone among the empty hangers. She plopped the case down on the bed, entered the combination and popped it open. “There ya go, Massa,” she said, moving past us in a hip-shaking strut.
“Ha ha, yeah.” Shawty removed the bulletproof vest and handed it to me. “Makaveli, rest in peace.” He thumped his chest twice and flashed two fingers at the sky.
Behind me, I heard the flick of a lighter and The HO’s snicker. Bitch needs to get punched, I thought as I examined the vest. Shawty didn’t seem to notice or didn’t seem to care. He watched me intently, trying to read a final total in the movements of my eyes.
“Where’d you get it?” I said, handing it back to him.
Carefully, he sat it back in the case. “Bought it off an LVPD officer,” he said. “One of the first motherfuckers that arrived on the scene.”
I nodded. “Bet they walked off with anything that fit in their pockets.”
“Fuck yeah, they did. If they had time pro’lly woulda cut his dick off and tried sellin’ that.”
“Nobody would sell another man’s dick,” I assured him.
“Motherfuckers do anything for a dollah.”
I ignored him and stared at the vest, though I already knew my answer. He pressed his knuckles against his lips in anticipation. When I closed the case, he said, “Whatchu thinking, man? How much we get for that? It’s Tupac’s vest, dog. Tupac’s vest.”
“Why you selling it?”
“Why anybody sell anything? Need the fuckin’ money.”
I didn’t ask him why he needed the money. I knew: three paternity cases, two copyright infringement suits, a weapons charge and he’d gotten burned in that Ponzi scheme.
“So, whatchu think? Huh? How much? You still workin’ for that crazy, rich mother that’s got Bugsy eyeball?”
“Sometimes,” I told him.
“Think he’d want it?”
I shrugged and lit a cigarette. “I checked your story out.” I sat down back by the window and pulled the ashtray across the table. The HO sighed and moved it closer. “It matches my information.” I scratched my chin and considered the burning tip of my smoke. “It looks like the vest.” I picked a stray bit of tobacco from my lips. “Like the one he wore to the last award show.”
“Fuck yeah,” Shawty said, slapping his fist into his palm, “it looks like the one he wore to the award show, ‘cuz he wore it to the fuckin’ award show.”
I shrugged and took a long drag, holding the smoke tight in my lungs, before blowing it and the words out, “I can’t be sure.”
The HO laughed.
“Can’t be sure a what, motherfucker?” He stalked around the room, doing circles on the crusty, brown carpet. The HO laughed again, sending him over the edge until he beat the dresser with his fist, his rings clanking and scratching the surface.
Next door, someone beat the wall in response.
Shawty threatened it with his fist, but the wall wasn’t intimidated.
He found his cool with three, deep breaths. “Ain’t no way to be mo’ sure, less you ask Pac hisself. And you don’t look like Jesus or no magic man, so yo shit outta,” he said.
He didn’t understand the look I gave him back. But The HO did. She laughed harder and the moled cheek beneath Shawty’s left eye twitched.
“They say he’s still alive,” I told him.
He chuckled, trying to drown out The HO’s continued laughter. “They say lotta shit about lotta shit—that don’t make it true.”
He tensed when I stood and crossed the room.
“So what’s the fuckin’ problem?” He tugged at the dark, wiry hairs of his goatee. He retreated to the same wall he had threatened. It held him up as he said, “What we gotta do? Huh? To make this work? What we gotta do?”
I sat down on the bed. “I gotta be sure.”
“That it’s a bulletproof vest.”
He bounded to the bed, flung the case open, grabbed the vest and rapped it with his knuckles. “Listen—bullet stoppage.” He shook the vest in front of me before rapping it again. “Bullet stoppage. Rat-a-tat-tat and it ain’t no thing.”
“I need to test it.”
He rolled his eyes, his nostrils flaring, before tossing it back on the bed. He walked to The HO, but she turned her face to watch her cigarette die in the ashtray.
“Can’t fuckin’ shoot it here,” he said, his back to me. “And I ain’t lettin’ you walk off with it.”
The jingle of my keys turned him around. “Then come with me.”
“We’ll drive out into the desert and we’ll test it.”
“Yeah, fuck you, motherfucker.” He fell into his white voice, “Yes, uh, drive out into the desert with me and my gun, please. Oh, and be sure to bring the merchandise I was thinking of purchasing from you.”
“You don’t have a gun?”
“Fuck yeah, I got a gun.” He reached behind me. I didn’t move as his hand snaked under the pillow and pulled out flashy, chrome automatic. “I’m always strapped, motherfucker.”
“Then there’s no problem. Bring your gun.”
He flexed his hand around the grip.
“Bring the whore—The HO.”
He smirked. “A’ight. Let’s go, baby.”
She walked over to him. I could see his disappointment as she brushed against his shoulder and kept walking. “You a fuckin’ fool,” she said.
I killed the engine, but left the lights on.
“Damn, dog, that was a rough ride,” Shawty said, opening his car door.
“It’s the desert,” I told him. “Not the beach. Nothing smooth out here.”
“’Cept for me,” he said, grinning and climbing out of the car. He sat the case on the hood and removed the vest. When I stepped out, he looked at me and said, “Am I just sitting it on the dirt or what?”
I shook my head. “Someone’s gotta wear it.”
“Oh, fuck you.”
I smiled. “You’re tellin’ me you don’t want to be shot in Pac’s vest?”
The sound of the last car door opening pressed his decision. “Yeah,” he said looking at The HO, “but won’t that fuck up the value? He weren’t never shot while wearing it.”
“Says you. Google Pac’s vest,” I told him. “You’ll get a thousand hits all with people saying different shit. He didn’t wear it that regular. He wore it all the time. He didn’t take it with him to Vegas. He did take it with him to Vegas. He wasn’t wearing it that night. He was wearing it that night until Suge told him to take it off. I tell my fucking buyer he was shot in it, they’ll fucking believe he was shot in it.”
He licked his thick lips.
I pointed at him. “Google it. Google that shit.”
“Gimme your phone,” he told The HO.
She slid it out of her front pocket and handed it to him. He stepped into the headlights glare, and began searching the internet.
When he was satisfied, he said, “I see what you’re saying.”
“I told you,” I said.
He ignored me and said, “Help me with this, baby.”
She grabbed her phone out of his hands. “You gotta be kiddin’?”
He snatched it back, sat it on the hood and handed her the vest. “Just help me with the damn straps.”
After he slid the vest over his head, she pulled the straps tight and then velcroed them closed. “See if you can’t find yo brain in there,” she told him as he examined and adjusted the vest.
“Shut the fuck up! Seriously! Just shut the fuck up!”
“Listen, baby, he ain’t gonna do nothin’. I trust ‘im.” He grinned, his teeth gleaming ivory in the dark, desert night. “And how many people can say they been shot in ‘Pac’s vest?”
“That’s right. But Shawty Dub can say he been shot in ‘Pac's vest.”
I drew the Glock and jacked a round in the chamber. “You ready?”
Shawty fiddled with the vest one last time before stalking between the headlight beams, standing with his hands on his hips, and taking a deep breath. Pleased with his superhero pose, he said, “Let’s do this.”
The round slammed him in the chest and he stuttered backwards. “Ah, fuck, that shit hurt,” he gasped and then doubled over, hands on his thighs.
“You alright?” I asked him.
He nodded, taking several more breaths before straightening with a wince and a smile. “Ha ha, what’d I tell you? What’d I fuckin’ tell you? Bullet stoppage, motherfucker!”
Walking over to him, I smiled back.
“So, how much?” he asked through gritted teeth.
“For the vest? Nothing. For you? Four,” I said, shooting him in the thigh and shoving him. He fell hard onto the rocky, desert floor. I pumped another one into his leg. He twitched. My thumb squeezed and a third round screamed toward his face. It clipped the side of his neck and I thundered one more into the top of his skull.
“Dumb motherfucker,” The HO yelled as she ran to his corpse. “Tupac’s vest?” She laughed and kicked him.
“They’ll be time for that later,” I told her, returning the Glock back to my coat. “Look for my brass. Should be five spent shells.”
While she went to work, I snapped latex gloves around my hands and wiped the briefcase down. From the glove box, I removed five, crisp, hundred dollar bills. Three I stuck in the briefcase. Two I scattered on the ground.
“Found ‘em,” she yelled.
I pitched the briefcase out into the night, and the desert soundlessly swallowed it whole.
The HO handed me the brass casings. I sealed them in a baggy and shoved them into my right pants pocket.
I popped a switchblade open and walked to the body of Shawty Dub. My knees popped when I bent down. “Damn, I ain’t watchin’ that shit,” she said as I dug around for one of the bullets. The tip of the blade pinged against metal. I worked the bullet to the surface of his thigh and plucked it out. It popped like a sucker from a kid’s mouth.
“That’s gross,” The HO said.
With two fingers, I held the bullet in the spotlight of the high beams. “No,” I said, “that’s money.”
I dropped the bullet in my shirt pocket, closed the blade, returned it to my left pocket and looked up at Habitual Offender.
“Ya know,” she said, “it’s bullshit I gotta do somethin’ like this. I’m good. I’m real good. No body can touch my flow. I hear some of these new boys on the radio and motherfuckers can’t match the flow to the bass beats. That’s the whole goddamn point.”
“Fame has a price.”
“I know that. Everything got its price.”
I nodded. “You ready?”
She faced me and puffed her chest out. “Fuck yeah, I’m ready.”
I flexed my hands in the gloves. She looked at her dusty, red tennis shoes. “Go for the nose,” she said.
I grabbed her bicep. “You sure?”
“Wanted a new one anyway. And it’ll just feed the rumor mill if I gotsta have face work done after surviving an attack.”
“Okay.” I punched her hard in the nose.
“Motherfuck!” She yelled, twisting out of my grasp. “Sonofabitch!” I grabbed her again and punched her twice more in the face.
When I let her go, she started to fall. She tried to stumble her way back to standing, but her legs weren’t cooperating. I drew the gun again and grabbed her forearm, doing the job her legs botched, returning her upright.
Her puffy eyes were full of tears and pain. Her nose sat crooked on her face. Her lips were swelling, but she smiled. “I got me some Angelina lips now. Didn’t even need to go see that creepy motherfucker in Beverly Hills neither.” She laughed.
I stuck the gun against the edge of her abdomen. “Do it,” she said and smiled bigger. Blood and lipstick stained her ivory teeth. Somehow a thumbprint-sized swathe of lip gloss was still poppin’.
I fired and let her fall.
When I hit the Boulder Highway, I made a call. “It’s me,” I said. “I might have something for you. How much for one of the bullets that killed Shawty Dub?”
“Who is Shorty—Shawty Dub?” The voice on the other end asked.
“Is he famous?”
“He will be when the news hits tomorrow.”
“You never cease to amaze and impress me,” the voice said. “How do you work so quickly?”
“Lord knows,” I said. “Lord knows.”
BIO: Chad Eagleton has been published in D.Z. Allen's Muzzle Flash, Powder Burn Flash, The Pulp Pusher, and Bad Things, where you can find Double D, starring the same narrator as above.