DEALS, CONCESSIONS, AND BARGAINING POWER - KEVIN MICHAELS
Previously published at Darkest Before The Dawn in May 2009
A driving rain whips across the motel parking lot, smacking against the windows in a staccato beat that drowns out all other noises in Room 217.
The late afternoon talk show is barely audible on the old Sanyo TV as Cuba lights another Marlboro and rechecks the clip in the Nine, tucking it beneath his shirt, snug against the small of his back. Even with the air conditioning cranked to its highest setting, sweat still trickles down his forehead and burns his eyes. Tall, broad, and black, with a shaved head and gold caps on his teeth, there is a hard edge to his stare; everything about him is anger, hurt, and pain.
He wipes a hand across his face and worries again about the four guys in the black Yukon parked at the motel’s Route One entrance.
That has changed the dynamic of the situation.
“You ready?” he asks Rocco.
The kid looks up; waiting is not something he’s used to nor does well. He is lean and lanky, no more than sixteen – a boy in a man’s body, wearing a black tee, baggy Ed Hardy’s, and a silver and black Raiders cap turned backwards on his head. A soldier – the kind of guy you can tell what to do and he’ll do it without asking questions. He is on the bed with a deucey-deuce, nervously picking at something on the back of his hand as he watches TV. There’s also a sawed-off double barrel on the floor, just within reach, although Cuba is certain they can do this without the shotgun.
“Been ready all day,” Rocco says.
“There’s worse things,” Cuba shoots back. “Be glad you ain’t waiting outside in the rain.”
Rocco lights a cigarette and flips through the channels on the TV.
“Buggin’ a little, waiting for something to do,” he says. “Know what I mean?”
“Be plenty to do soon enough. Just stay sharp.”
Anything else the kid can say is lost in the sounds of the rain and the planes landing nearby at Newark airport.
Cuba sits back and waits. There is a gym bag by his feet filled with ten kilos of coke. Each is worth twenty grand although, after cutting and processing, Cuba’s crew can work the coke to sixty dollars a gram on the street, pulling in close to six hundred grand for everything in the bag. He knows it’s a decent score; the kind of opportunity that doesn’t come along too often.
Instead, he’s in a room at an airport motel, forced to be the middleman in a deal between a Guinea mob from Brooklyn and some upstart Jamaican thugs trying to muscle their way into the neighborhood. Cuba knows the Guineas don’t care about things like that; to them, it’s all about money and moving product - the way they look at it, one gang is no different than the other. They have a chance to expand their distribution network and carve out something bigger and more substantial than what they have with Cuba and his crew. The Jamaicans will show up with two hundred thousand in twenties, fifties, and hundreds for the Guineas, then use the coke to finance enough guns and ammo to take over the corners. It’s just a matter of time before everything Cuba has and everything he knows is lost.
If it’s not the Jamaicans, he thinks, it’s the four guys in the black Yukon in the parking lot.
“Ain’t no time to be a cowboy,” Cuba says to Rocco. “Got to be smart.”
“It’s all good.”
“Just be cool and follow my lead,” Cuba says. “You feel me?”
Rocco nods. This is more than just a drug deal and he knows it. The Jamaicans are holding two kids from Cuba’s crew in a basement somewhere downtown, just to make sure everything goes down like it’s supposed to. It’s their way of guaranteeing that nobody gets cheated. To a guy like Cuba, this is about principles, power, and respect; things that are measured differently and involve more than Rocco really understands. Cuba has been wrapped tight and tense all day, and the only thing Rocco knows for certain is that he doesn’t want to be the one who screws up or lets him down.
There’s a knock and Cuba stands, crushing out his cigarette in the ashtray before motioning Rocco towards the door. The kid gets off the bed holding the twenty-two at his side and peeks through the peephole.
“Vito sent us,” a voice says. “Here for the package.”
Cuba nods and Rocco opens the door just enough to let them squeeze through. Two Jamaicans enter, dreads, attitude, and bulky windbreakers, with forty-fives and their own deucey-deuces inside the jackets. One is a tall guy named Frankie, who set up the deal with Cuba, but the other is somebody he’s never seen before – a short, heavy guy with a week’s worth of stubble on his chin and a toothpick rolled to the corner of his mouth. He takes a position just inside the door, with his back to the window and his fingers wrapped around a forty-five. Frankie shakes the rain off his jacket and lifts a briefcase for Cuba to see.
“What you got for us?” he asks, gesturing towards the Everlast bag.
Cuba returns a stare that cuts through Frankie.
“Think we need to go through the formalities first,” Cuba says. “Got an issue with this set up. Ain’t a good way for business partners to be acting. Don’t exactly inspire trust.”
Frankie exchanges a grin with his partner then turns to Cuba.
“Think we need to see what you got before we start discussing the variables of the deal.”
“Ain’t no variables,” Cuba says. “Ain’t no deal without ground rules.”
“Don’t care about your rules,” Frankie says, the corners of his mouth turning into a sneer while attitude creeps into his voice. “Don’t really care about how you want to be treated. This ain’t no partnership. You getting paid for doing a job and that’s all that matters.”
“It ain’t got to be like that,” Cuba says. “No reason for you to be taking our corner boys and holding them hostage.”
“Gives us a little leverage so we know you’re committed to making this happen,” Frankie says. “Eliminates doubt, you know.”
The guy against the wall steps forward. “Enough talk,” he barks. “Let’s see what you got. Talk about the rest of it later.”
Cuba locks his stare on him and holds it; neither blinks or gives an inch until Cuba finally reaches for the gym bag. He drops it on the bed and unzips it slowly. Both Jamaicans lean forward to see the neat little white packages laid out in rows inside.
He turns to Frankie. “Now your turn.”
Frankie smiles as he holds out the briefcase in both arms, extending it forward, popping the latches with his thumbs to flip it open. “You think we gonna cheat you?”
“Considering the situation, don’t seem like you’re negotiating in good faith,” Cuba says.
The two Jamaicans laugh. “Nigger, you just don’t get it, huh?” Frankie says. “Ain’t got nothing to do with good faith.”
“Nothing to do with partnership, neither,” the guy against the wall adds.
“You just the hired help,” Frankie says. “Ain’t nothing more than that.”
Cuba takes a breath and holds it before looking to Rocco. “Look like it’s all there. Look like two hundred grand to you?”
Rocco picks through the bills and nods.
Cuba flashes his own grin. The guy against the door is loose and casual with his gun, holding it at his waist like a gun slinger from an old ’50s TV Western while Frankie has his hands full with the briefcase, waiting for either Cuba or Rocco to take it. Neither reacts fast enough as Cuba pulls his Nine from behind his back and levels it at the guy against the wall in one, smooth motion, freezing him quickly in place. Something registers in his eyes for a split second but, before he can do anything, Cuba squeezes the trigger three times and the guy’s chest erupts in an explosion of blood, flesh, and bone. He slams backwards, hanging against the wall before sliding slowly to the floor and leaving a long trail of blood streaking down on the wallpaper. He slumps forward to the carpet but is dead before he rolls over on his side, still clutching the forty-five in his hand.
Rocco has his gun aimed at Frankie’s head, pressed hard into his temple.
“You crazy?” Frankie hisses, looking frantically from Rocco to Cuba.
There is panic and desperation in his eyes – the calm and cockiness is gone.
“Know how big a pile of shit you just stepped in?”
“Ain’t no partnership, ain’t nothing worth talking about,” Cuba says.
“You know what you’re doing?” Frankie asks.
“Know I ain’t negotiating,” Cuba says. “Not with you.”
There’s nothing in his expression as Cuba pulls the trigger. A small dot appears in the center of Frankie’s forehead, growing quickly in size and depth before darkening with blood. Frankie’s stare widens as the hole gets bigger. Blood spurts down his face and he drops the briefcase, scattering bills to the floor and across the corpse against the wall. He reaches towards Cuba but finds only empty space; when he opens his mouth to speak, there are no words, only a thick stream of blood and saliva.
Cuba shoves him backwards with a sneer and shoots him in the chest.
Frankie crumples face-down in a pool of blood on the carpet, his arms still outstretched and reaching helplessly towards Cuba, shuddering and jerking with spasms. There is one final twitch and a gasp for breath as he sucks in a mouthful of air and blood; he dies without another sound. Cuba stares at him for a moment, then spits a glob of phlegm at the corpse.
He scoops up the bills that scattered to the floor and pries the forty-five from the dead guy’s hand, shoving everything back inside the briefcase and snapping the latches shut. Rocco has the gym bag in one hand and his twenty-two in the other, waiting for Cuba to tell him what to do next. Cuba glances again at both bodies then grabs the sawed-off from the floor.
He looks at Rocco. “You cool with this?”
Rocco swallows hard and nods. “What about the guys they holding? The hostages?”
Cuba shrugs. “They just corner boys,” he says. “Ain’t important.”
He has to figure out how he’s going to get past the guys in the black Yukon.
BIO: Kevin Michaels’ stories have appeared in publications such as Word Riot, The Literary Review, Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences, Dogzplot, and Darkest Before The Dawn, as well as A Twist of Noir. He is a writer and a surfer who lives at the Jersey Shore.
Still the Same: Bob Seger
1 hour ago