Sunday, November 18, 2012


Pepper went to Sooky’s and had a couple of beers. He thought about Michelle, wondering what she was doing. He dismissed it and pulled out his cell phone.
”Yo bro? What you doing?”
”Hey Pepper, man. Long time no speak.”

He scowled. “Donnie we just talked a couple days ago. Jeez. Meet me at Sookie’s and I’ll buy you a beer.”

“Alright. I’ll be there in ten.”

Donnie looked bad. It was pretty obvious that he was using. If big Don saw that shit Donnie would be wearing cement boots. Son or no son, Don didn't play around when it came to his employee’s using.

Pepper found himself thinking grimly that if Donnie wanted so badly to walk in Pepper’s footsteps, then he should have never started using.  For the first time ever, Pepper felt what it was to be Donnie; pathetic man wanting to be something else and not appreciating what he did have; a mother, a father and a legacy—whether it was good or bad it was his. Under the circumstances, Pepper didn’t feel very sympathetic.

Especially when five years ago he had taken the fall for a murder that he hadn’t done. Donnie had committed the crime but somehow it was Pepper going to jail for it and his father asking him to take five for the family.

“You know,” Pepper said after Donnie’s third beer. “I’ve been looking around. It’s pretty interesting.”

"What's interesting?"
"That you're still alive."
Donnie blanched. "What? You’re the one that said Charlie Blue doesn’t want a blood war. What the fuck am I supposed to do? I can’t sell out Daddy. He would have my balls! I tried to tell the old fucker to cut Charlie Blue in on the action and let him have Over the River but he kept saying that he wasn’t giving anybody outside The Family a cut! That stupid mother fucker is going to get me killed because he wants to hold on to a piece of land! It’s bullshit!”

Pepper ignored the looks that they were getting. “Don’s not going to cut Charlie in. So if you’re not going to hand over the territory to him then we need to think of another way to save your ass. The thing is that they all see you as weak.”

Don scowled. They see my white ass and don’t know me from a hole in the wall. They look at you; you’re one of them-”

“Stop being stupid about race. You being white has nothing to with it. Look at Don. He’s white and they give him his respect. It’s because you are weak, Donnie. You don’t have any street creds, no kills. The only thing you got is a rep for bath salts and stealing pussy from strippers! The only kill you have is that drug dealer you took out but everyone thinks I did it.”

Donnie thought about it. “You think I should take out someone else?”

Pepper bit back his comment that he wanted him to do time for him again? Instead he said; “You could always take credit for the kill.”

“Are you crazy? I don’t even think about that, Pepper.”

“You better start using what you got. You can’t afford to sit on your ass hoping this shit will disappear! You’re going to have to do something!”

Donnie didn’t speak. Pepper watched him quietly before turning back to his beer.

“No, that probably wouldn’t work anyways. Everyone will think you’re just trying to ride off my coat tails and take credit for something I did.  Besides, that will just make me look like a bitch…”

“Ride off your coat tails?! I offed that two-bit drug dealer and I stomped him! He was a bad ass-”

“Keep your voice down!”

Donnie’s eyes were alit with fire but he lowered his voice. “He wasn’t badder than me, was he? In the end I was the badass!”

“Well it doesn’t mean shit if no one saw it and can vouch for it. Mother fuckers always trying to create bullshit to make themselves look good. But how you know its true is when it doesn’t come from them—but somebody else.”

Donnie seemed in deep thought. Pepper stood up. “Wait. Where are you going?”

“To take a leak.”

When Pepper returned Donnie had taken some time to think. “What do you know about Tre who rolls with the Fourth Street boys?”

“I know that he is a two bit hood and dealer. That’s where you’ve been scoring from, isn’t it?”

Donnie nodded. “Yeah. He ain’t connected and it won’t get back to Don.”

“He was stealing milk money when I got sent up. I’m assuming he’s progressed since then?”

“He has a good little hustle; a few hoes some dope. But he was there when I took out Markiff.”  Pepper’s brow lifted. Pepper hadn’t known any of these details. Back then before he was sentenced, Donnie was playing stupid. Now he was talkative; now that it was his ass that was on the line.

“What’s kept him quiet all this time?”

“I told him that Big Don would kill him and everyone he knows.”

“I guess you better un-tell him.”

The next day when Pepper went to the club he spent most of the day in the office doing payroll and other administrative duties. He was absorbed in the books when there was a knock on the door.
Michelle poked head inside. “Hey Pepper. You busy?” He closed the ledger.
”No. Come in.” She closed the door behind her.
”I wanted to show you something.”
She smiled widely. He noticed instantly. The wires were gone from her teeth.
”So soon? Is your jaw okay?”
The pleasure left her eyes as she briefly looked away. “Yeah. My jaw is fine.”
”What’s wrong, Michelle?”

She smiled then. "Nothing."
She was dressed for her set in a leather miniskirt and a leather bra with thigh high boots.
"Have you already done your set?”
”Yeah. Just finished.”
”Let me buy you something to eat. Something you can actually bite into.”
She smiled again and the sadness almost disappeared. Almost.
Pepper ordered them hamburgers and French fries and then cheesecake for dessert.
Michelle ate enthusiastically. “I haven’t had solid food in forever.”
Pepper watch her eat heartily. “Is it good?” he chuckled.
”Very good. Thank you.”
” Jaw doesn't hurt?"
"Not at all. I had a good time last night. I haven't had a platonic sleepover in years."
"Me neither. Well, actually I shared a cell so…”
Her eyes lost some of its light. ”Pepper? What was jail like?”

“Bad. Prison is not jail, though. I was in prison and that is dog eat dog.”

"Is it too painful to talk about?"
"It's not something you would want to know. Not really. I've seen men bent over backwards and beg for their manhood. I’ve seen young boys turned into animals, fathers and husbands made into prostitutes. Prisons make animals.”

“I’m sorry. You fared okay, though. Didn’t you?”

"I met some people in jail that told me how to work the system, so I did. I got a GED, a couple of degrees, and read a lot of books.”
Michelle sighed. “Damn Pepper. You weren’t kidding when you said you worked the system.”

"I’ve been waiting all my life for someone to get me out of the system. They only got me in deeper."
"Your father?"
"My father and mother."
"You never talked about your mom.”

"There's nothing to say. She lived fast, died young and left me and my brothers and sisters to make it on our own."
"You have other brothers and sisters?”
”A lot. Some from my dad,  some from my mom. Anyways, she died when I was young. I went to my dad, and here I am now."
"Your life in a nutshell."
Pepper smiled. “I’ll give you my memoires.”

"I read down." She looked at him sadly.
"What's wrong, Michelle? Really."
"I didn't get my period."
He watched her speechless. “What? But don’t they have a morning after pill?”

"I didn't go to the doctor, remember? I didn't want to do a police report."
Pepper sighed in frustration. Michelle mistook it for irritation at her.
”Well what was I supposed to do? Start an investigation? Have Donnie put a hit on me?” She stood up and stormed out of the lounge.

“Hey!” He chased after her. “I’m not blaming you!” He grabbed her arm to stop her from running away. “Michelle! Stop! I know this isn’t your fault, okay.”

She looked at him trembling. “What am I going to do, Pepper? I can’t have an abortion. I don’t want to raise Donnie’s child. I don’t want my body to be fucked for nine months! I have to start this internship. But I don’t believe in aborting an innocent child! I don’t want to do that!”

“Okay, honey, you don’t have to. No one is going to make you do anything you don’t want to do.”

“Why did this have to happen to me?” She cried against his chest. He pulled her into his arms and grit his teeth in anger. In that second he could see Donnie dead. It would make his life so much better…but death was too easy for Donnie.

He thought about his brothers and sisters—many of which were products of rape. In jail he’d had time to think about the face of his mother and the hate he felt began to disappear. How could she spread her legs for someone right after being brutalized? He couldn’t understand that until much later. Much later he realized that she did what a lot of victims did; they pretended that it wasn’t happening. She wasn’t the person that had been born to her mother and father. She was just a husk; a shell.

He sighed. "It's going to be okay. I'm going to be there for you. You won't have to do this alone."
He felt her nod her head. “Donnie’s going to be gone in just a few days. I promise.”
She looked up suddenly. “What are you going to do? Pepper, please just leave it alone.”
”Michelle, you need to go home and relax.”
”But I have another set in a few minutes.”
He led her back into the lounge. “Do your set, then go home. You have my cell phone number. If you need me call me.”
He gave her firm look. “Donnie’s not getting off easy. He beat you, raped you and probably got you pregnant. My time in prison was courtesy of my brother. I got sent up for a murder rap that I didn’t commit!” Pepper dropped his hands from Michelle because the look of fear in her eyes pained him.

"You know, all of my life I've had to see that same look you have in your eyes. If I can help it, you’ll never have it again. I couldn’t take it away from my mom, but I won’t let you have it too.”

He walked away.
"Pepper!" She followed him to his car. "Don't go." He ignored her and got in. "Pepper! Please…" his mouth went dry.
Years before those had been his mother’s last words. A trick had run out of the house and Pepper had hurried into his mother’s room. She was sprawled on her bed with several stab wounds to her torso and he remembered the sight of her life blood coating the mattress. She looked at him and said; “Pepper. Please…”

He shuttered and shook his head and then look at Michelle. "I'm sorry. Michelle, I'm sorry. What do you want me to do?"
"Take me home, hold me in your arms.”
They look at each other. “Hold you?”

"Love me."
His mouth grew even more dry. "Loving you wouldn't be hard for me. But loving me, can you do that?"
Michelle's face off. "How can I not? Will you wait for me while I get my things? I’ll be right out. I’ll be right out.”

“I’ll be here.” When she left pepper closed his eyes. Where was he going with this? Kitten the stripper; possible mother to his brother’s unborn baby.

He had never wanted to live his adulthood as he’d lived his childhood. But he couldn’t continue to delude himself. He was feeling something for this woman. Michelle was educated, technically a virgin…and yes, he could see himself falling for her.

He knew that despite recent events, she was not going to end up a victim of the ghetto and he was proud of that; proud of her. He wanted to love someone like that but more importantly he wanted to talk to her and laugh with her and to know her.

"I'm back." He opened his eyes and smile.
Pepper and Michelle went to her place where she led him directly to her bedroom.

“I’m going to change. Be right back.”

”Can I take off my pants? Do you care?”
She smiled. “That’s fine.”

When she left the room Pepper stripped down to his boxer briefs, laying his clothes neatly across her rocker.
He pulled the comforter down and climbed into the bed lying on top of the blankets and sheets. A few moments later Michelle came out of the bathroom wearing a T-shirt and black panties, her hand mysteriously behind her back.
Pepper has seen her in less. But somehow this turned him on instantly.
She stood at the bed and watched him. “I…uh…like your underwear,” she said hoarsely.
Pepper smiled. “Thanks.” He patted the bed next to him.
She climbed into it I’ll awkwardly because of the thing she was hiding behind her back. With a grin she showed him a brush.
”Can I? “
Pepper cracked up. He removed the ponytail holder from his hair and shook out his long hair.

Michelle came up behind him on her knees and he glanced down at two mahogany knees on either side of him. Good he was imagining her core pressed against the small of his back. He closed his eyes and tied to get rid of the image. His tight briefs left little room for inconspicuous arousal.
“Oh God! Your hair is so silky. What did you do to it?”

"I went to the barber and have a long drive."
Michelle froze and he looked over his shoulder at her.

"You paid someone to do this for you? Pepper? Come over here whenever you want it done.” He wasn’t paying attention to her words. He reached out and stroked her hair and then her face.
He came up on his knees facing her and stroked her throat then her shoulders.
Michelle side and let her fingertips touched his tattooed biceps.

“Your arms are so…hard,” she murmured. It wasn’t the only thing, he thought. Michelle ran her fingertips over his chest. She hesitated at his nipples. Gently she grazed him with her nails.

“How does that feel?”

His breath caught in his throat. “Good.” He licked his lips and leaned in to kiss her. Women, he thought, probably kissed each other softly, sweetly, so he made sure to do it aggressively, sensually.

Immediately Michelle groaned. He pulled her close until their bodies molded to each other. He reached under her shirt and clutched her ass. He was much slower when he pulled her against his erection. Careful. He had to be careful. He didn’t want to scare her. But he wanted her so badly.

Slowly he pulled away.

She looked at him confused. He leaned forward and kissed her being more gentler. He slid his tongue into her mouth the way he wanted to slide his cock into her. He teased her mercilessly until she panted. 

“I want to…touch you.” She said against his lips.

Pepper lay back against his haunches. Michelle's lips were swollen from the kiss, her lids hooded sensually. He knew that he didn’t look much different.

Boldly she reached out and touched the hardness in his underwear. Her fingers traced the outline of his erection.
Pepper shivered and was surprised to feel himself grow even harder.
Michelle gasped.

“Are you okay?" He asked.
"Can I see you?"
He climbed out of bed and slipped out of his underwear. His penis jutted upwards to his bellybutton and he prayed that it didn’t scare her.  He studied her eyes. She seemed anything but afraid. Boldly she climbed out of bed and swept off her shirt. She watched him carefully, noting his every intake of breath. She pulled off her panties instant close to him.

Pepper swallowed. "You're beautiful."
"You are." She said.
He took her hand and placed them on his penis. She didn’t stroke him like a virgin.

“Slow…slow. Yesss,” he hissed. “Ohhh, fuck. Okay, you might want to stop now.”

Michelle lowered her hands. “I’m sorry. Too fast?”

He put his hand over hers and replaced it. "I'll show you how I like it. Every man is different. Slow with me. Like this. Long strokes. Sometimes harder; oh yes. You can squeeze. Harder. Ow!” He smiled suddenly. “I’m just kidding.”

Michelle canceled. She put one hand into Pepper’s hair, the other she kept firmly planted where he had placed it. She leaned in and delivered another amazing kiss.
Gently Pepper removed her hand in order to pull her taut against him. He caressed her ass and slowly rotated his pelvis against her. Michelle’s mouth and her eyes blinked. She threw her head back and moaned.
”Do you want me in you?”
”Oh God, yes.”

He swept her into his arms and her eyes widened as she wrapped her hands around his neck. She seemed surprised and he smirked to himself. Score one for the men. He held her a bit longer, wanting her to remember what it was like to be with a man. He finally lowered her to the bed and then covered her body with his own.
”Are you okay?” She nodded. Gently he rubbed himself against her soft core until he felt her thighs tremble and whimpers began to slip from her lips. Then he slid himself into her.
”Oh,” she moaned. When she was sure that she was okay he slowly began to move in and out. It felt amazing but after a moment he realized that she was no longer moving with him.
”Are you okay?”
”I don’t know.” He thought she was crying. Instantly he wanted to pull out of her and hold her in his arms. Instead he lowered his mouth to her breasts. He nuzzled her nipples, drawing one and then the other into his mouth, prodding and teasing with his tongue.
He could hear her moaning. Again he began to move in and out of her. She raised her knees and he felt her body quivering as he went deeper into her.
Somehow that movement sent him over the edge.
”Baby, are you ready to come? I’m going to pull out-”

Michelle clutched his arms. “Faster.”

“Ah…” Pepper pumped faster.


He clenched his teeth trying to allow her to ride her orgasm to the end, but her gyrations and moans made it difficult. Finally she slowed and then came to an exhausted stop.

Pepper pulled himself out of her and his orgasm was quick and powerful. He made sure to aim at her belly so as not to mess her blankets. He wondered if the sight of his semen splashed against her dark skin would excite or disgust her. He got his answer when she brought her fingers down to trail along the pearly essence. She brought her fingertip up to her mouth and licked it.

He watched her face. “What does it taste like?”

She gave him a questioning look. “You don’t know?”

“Oh I know.”

Her brow quirked up. “How do you know?”

“This is how I know.”  He leaned over her and kissed and lapped at her lips.


The two showered together while Michelle asked him questions after question from how often can you do it? Can you pee with an erection? Can you have an orgasm without ejaculating? What does it feel like to get hit in the balls?
He answered all of her questions patiently--and a little amused.

“Let me ask you a question. Was it like you thought it would be?”

Her eyes gleamed. “More. It was different. I just…didn’t know it would be so different.”

"What do you mean?"
"The orgasm. There's a clitoral orgasm, and now I see that there is a vaginal one." He pulled her wet body against his.
”What you want to do now?”
”Oh God, Pepper. Don’t ask me that. Then you’ll know how much of a freak I really am.”

“Lord have mercy.”

The next morning the pair lay exhausted in each others arms after a night of engaging in every fantasy that Michelle had ever had involving a penis including those that Pepper himself had never entertained.
”Pepper, baby-” she murmured.
“I don’t have anymore body fluids.” He interrupted.
She chuckled I wasn’t going to ask you for sex--yet.” She sighed. “What did you mean when you said that Donnie set you up for murder you didn’t commit?”
Pepper looked at her seriously. "Michelle, it's not that I don't want to tell you, but that's a dangerous topic. The less you know well…you know the rest.”
”Pepper, you trust me don’t you?”
”Baby,” he set up. “I didn’t mean to make you think it’s a matter of trust.” He twisted his lips. “Look, I’m not a good guy. By no means am I trying to make you believe IM. But there is a cold among these, as corny as it sounds. Donnie killed a two bit pusher and it was dirty. The man was too cracked out to defend himself and Donnie kicked to death and then robbed him.”
Michelle didn’t flinch. Pepper licked his lips and continued.
”My job was to maintain compliance. A smart man builds his reputation fast and furious. There were fistfights, knife fights and gunfights. Sometimes people lived and sometimes they died. But the game was played by mutual agreement. Right now, I could be lying in a grave instead of them. I understood the risks and I was willing to take them. But I never laid in wait for anyone. The playing field was even.” Pepper looked into the distance aware that he was trying to validate his actions.
”Donnie fucked up and came running to me to clean it up. And I did it because that’s what I do best. That’s how I got busted.” He looked at her hard. “Somehow my finger prints were found on a pair of sunglasses found with the body. My sunglasses. Only thing is I wasn’t wearing sunglasses that day.”

Michelle gasped. “My god…your brother?”

Pepper grimaced. “Donnie’s not my family. He’s just a fucked up man fathered by the same individual.”

“Did you ever confront him about it?”

“I don’t need to.” Gently he pushed her away and stood. “I’m going to pee.”

When he returned to the bedroom Michelle politely changed the subject.

They enjoyed the rest of the day in each othe’rs company. By evening, though, Pepper had to part company from her.

On the drive home he turned on his cell phone. He had a number of messages; two were from Bonita wanting to see him. And jackpot, the second was from Donnie.

He called him back. “What’s up, bro?”

“Yo, Pep. You at home?”

“On my way.”

“I’ll meet you there.”

Donnie was waiting in his car when Pepper pulled up. They slapped fists. Pepper looked at his younger brother, searching for the smallest bit of love. He felt empty.

“You talk to Tre?” He asked.

“Yeah. Last night.”

“Is he going to spread the word for you?”

“Doing it as we speak.”

“Good deal. Come on in, man. Sit down. I don’t have any liquor.” Why buy it when he managed a club hat served anything he could want?

“Man, you should drop some of this X. It’s a good high, brother.”

“Yeah it’s a good way for me to get sent back to the pen. I’ll pass.”

Donnie reached into his pocket for a miniature pill box and he dry swallowed the little white tablet.

“Man, you don’t know what you’re missing. Good high. Make you want to fuck.”

Pepper’s lip twitched and he gave him a prophetic look. “That shit is going to get you fucked.”

That night before going to work Pepper stopped at a pay phone and made a call.

“Hello, police. I need to report some information, but I don’t want to reveal my name. It has to do with a drug deal.”


At the club Bucky nudged him in the ribs. "You notice how Kitten’s been watching you?" They were short on bouncers so Pepper was helping out at the private rooms. “I think you got her nose open.”

Pepper smiled and Bucky gave him a knowing look. "I was wondering when you would give into temptation. Man, nobody can work here for long without testing the merchandise.”

Pepper ‘s cell phone rang before he could respond.
”This is Pepper.”
”Pepper! What the hell is wrong with Donnie?!” It was Jay.

Pepper turned to Bucky. "I'll be right back." He headed to the office.
"What are you talking about?"

"Donnie’s going around telling people that he killed Markiff!”

Pepper paused. "Really?"
"Yeah, really. Is he on crack?!"

"He's telling people he did it?" Pepper feigned surprise.

Jay continued. “He said that he and Tre were copping from Markiff. Supposedly Donnie was fucked up and started pushing the guy around. Then he took all of his shit and stomped him.”

Pepper knew why Donnie stomped. It had been the one thing that he had done that Donnie had admired so much. Pepper paced.

“There’s no way that’s true. Do you want to know what he told me? Five years ago he told me that Tre stomped Markiff and he just stood back and watched.” Pepper lied. “He told me to help him clean it up because Tre would roll on him if he got caught.”

“Everybody knows…” Jay stopped himself, remembering that they were on the telephone. “So somehow you got it cleaned up and left your sunglasses behind; with your fingerprints?”


“I see.” Jay said quietly. “You going to tell me what’s going on?”

“You, my friend, are one of the few that will be able to figure it out all by yourself. But I need you to do me one last favor.”

“What Pep?”

“Spread the word that my brother didn’t kill nobody. Tre did, but it’s all cool. I had to protect my brother from Tre rolling and so I did. But if I find out somebody is selling drugs to him, I will stomp them.”

Jay sighed in confusion. “I will do that. Later, Pep.”


Pepper was waiting for Michelle at the end of the night. She wordlessly gathered her things and followed him outside.

“Your place or mine?”

“Mine.” She smiled.

“I’ll follow you.”

As soon as they entered the apartment he snaked his arms around her and pulled her close.

“Were you dancing for me tonight?”

She giggled and nodded, her arms going around his neck. He kissed her and nearly stole her breath away with its intensity. She hooked his ponytail around her fist and hung on to him. He looked at her with dark piercing eyes.

“I’m going to admit something to you.”

Her face looked solemn. “What is that?”

“There is something that a woman might be able to do better than a man…but I will give it my best.”

She looked confused and then he lifted her in his arms and carried her to the bed. He left her sitting on the edge and he went down on his knees between her chocolate thighs.

Her mouth formed a big ‘O’ as she watched him. She was wearing jeans and he undid the button and then slipped big hands into them and with a little help from her, pulled them over her ass.

He eyed her boy pants; black with a pink Hello Kitty right on her pussy. Hello Kitty, he thought while pulling her panties down her smooth legs. He trailed kisses up her inner thighs until they reached her mound.

She was watching him, her breath coming out in soft gusts. Even in the relative darkness she could see that his eyes were captivated by the sight of her pussy. She spread her legs, planting her feet on the end of the bed, knowing that the move spread her wide for his eyes and hopefully his mouth to feast.

Pepper groaned and then lowered his mouth to her succulent flesh. She was shaved clean and her pussy was the prettiest that he’d ever seen. Maybe because she was a show-girl, but she was waxed very smooth and his tongue took full advantage as it glided from her asshole to her clit.

Michelle’s back arched and she gripped the sheets and threw her head back. Damn…that was good. He licked like a lion; as if he was the owner of her pussy.

Pepper gripped her thighs and held her in place as he ate her pussy, dipping his fingers into her hole and collecting sweet, tangy juices to suck. He covered her clit with his mouth and then flicked his tongue back and forth across it until her body began to shiver uncontrollably.

Her hands fell into his hair and held him in place, not that he was going anywhere. Her pussy was like heaven. He moved further down and thrust her legs back until her ass was there in full sight, her asshole twitching. He kissed it and she screamed in pleasure. He slipped his finger into her wet pussy and when it was coated in delicious honey he pushed it gently into her ass.

“Fuck, Pepper! What are you doing…? That feels so good.”

He removed his finger and kissed and licked her there, teasing.

“I’m going to eat that beautiful ass.” He buried his face between her legs, licking and sucking at her smooth flesh until the damn broke and Kitten came violently.

Pepper stood and released his cock from his pants. He quickly plunged into her wet and vibrating pussy. Her legs went around him and her body bucked. Her cries of pleasure were renewed as he pounded her pussy.

He didn’t let up until his balls pulled up and prepared to explode! He came up on his knees and pulled out enough to pump his cum all over her pussy. When every drop was released he rubbed his cock head against her smooth flesh and then rolled onto his back.

He was breathing evenly, nearly asleep when he felt something warm on his shaft. He opened his eyes and saw Kitten licking his nuts clean. “That’s my girl.” He mumbled. “I gotchu next, baby.”


When Pepper got home the next morning Donnie was waiting for him on his porch.

“Let me change out of these clothes and then we’ll go grab some breakfast.” He said neutrally.

“Pepper. I need you to do me a favor.”

Pepper opened his front door and Donnie followed him in. “What?”

“I need you to cop me some X.”

Pepper entered his bedroom and opened his closet. “Get your own fucking drugs. I ain’t your pusher.”

“Bro, nobodies selling to me! Fucking, Tre won’t return my calls and them other nigg…brothers don’t even talk to me!”

Pepper pulled off his shirt and tossed it on his unmade bed. Donnie scanned his brother’s chest and then tried to suck in his gut. Pepper knew that his body was cut. He worked out like he was in training camp. Years of discipline had created a body that he could be proud of. He pulled on a shirt that showcased that hard work and then changed into fresh jeans.

After a minute he looked at Donnie. “I’ll see what I can do. But you’ll have to cop from Big Don’s supplier until I do.”

“What if Don finds out…”

“Donnie, stop being a bitch! Fuck!”

Donnie raised his hand. “I’m not being a bitch. I don’t take anything harder than X because I know Daddy will shit if he caught me on cocaine or heroine. I don’t even smoke weed because I don’t want him smelling it on me! That old bastard won’t let me have a real vice. He sucks the life out of everything!”

Pepper swept his hands through his lose hair and then pulled it back into a ponytail. “Whatever. I gotta brush my teeth.”

They had breakfast at a nice diner. Pepper ate slowly and enjoyed his steak and eggs and coffee. Donnie looked anxious and annoyed. He barely touched his pancakes.

“You hooked?” Pepper asked.

“Nah…” He wiped his sweating lip. “I’m stressed. Tre ain’t calling me back and shit feels yanky out on the streets. I got a drop tonight and I need something for my nerves before then. You have no idea what its like to have to watch your back because everybody is mean mugging your white ass.”

“Do you want me to come along with you?”

Donnie’s eyes lit up. “Fuck yeah.”

Pepper took his napkin and patted his lips. “I gotchu brother.”

“Damn, Pep…” Donnie looked at him for a long time. “I appreciate that. You know?”

“Don’t mention it.”


After he returned home from breakfast he called Don. “I need to talk to you.”

“Okay. When and where?”

“My house. As soon as you can get here.”

“I’m on my way.”

Don was there in less than half an hour.  He looked around the small house.


“It is nice. Please tell your wife that I appreciate what she’s done.”

“I will.” Don took a seat on the couch. “So what’s going on?”

“Don…you said that you had a secret protégé that owns the club.” Don looked at him and then pulled out a cigar. “You don’t, do you? It’s my club, right?”

Don lit his cigar and looked at the end. “I can’t give you everything. Donnie is already jealous. But yes. The club is yours, lock stock and barrel. But that information is between you and me.”

Pepper rubbed his chin. He sat down across from his father. “Why?”

“Because I want you in. You don’t think that you want it but deep down you know it’s in your blood. You know how it works. You know the street and you know the game. You had a fall…but it don’t have to break you, son.”

Pepper’s eyes closed momentarily. “What will Donnie do when I’m his boss? He might be lazy as shit but he wants to sit on top and control everything.”

Big Don was nonchalant when he spoke. “Donnie is soft. I want him tough, otherwise he’s no use to me. The way he is now, he can go work for a car dealership for all I care. I’m not going to let my business go down because of him. Over The River was his test…a test that he’s not going to pass.”

Pepper went into the kitchen and retrieved two bottled waters. He handed one to Don.

“I want to pull Donnie and put you on it. It’s your rep that made that territory successful. Hell it’s your rep that’s been keeping Donnie safe.” Don gave him a piercing look. “But there is only so far that a five year rep is going to carry.”

Pepper was shaking his head. “I have five years of hype. It’s you and your connections that keep everyone in order.”

“Pepper, you of all people know that I ain’t got any backing. I pay MY boss and as long as I’m productive he keeps me around. Fuck, I ain’t a mobster. I’m a gangster and there is a difference! Over The Rhine is my big money maker. If I lose that than I’m lost.” He leaned forward. “I need your commitment to The Family. And not because I’m telling you to, but because you want it!”

Pepper swallowed his water. He wanted to be sure and now he was. Don wasn’t connected…

“I want it,” he said.

Don leaned back and smiled. “Good deal. You know, despite everything it turned out okay.”

For you, Pepper thought grimly.

“I…felt very bad about your mother’s death.” Pepper stiffened. “I really cared for her. But, she got on that shit and…fucking drugs! It makes people into waste of space!” He stood and looked at Pepper. “But I want you to know that I tried to get her help. But every time I gave her money it went on drugs. I had to cut her off and…I know I made a lot of mistakes. Your mother is one of them.”

Don headed out the door when Pepper didn’t speak. Pepper walked him out and Don turned to him before climbing into the car. “When your mother…passed away, I wanted you to live with me. It was the only time that I ever went against my wife. But when she said she would pack her things and take off I backed down.”

Pepper felt like something had slammed into his stomach. He felt as if he had been sucker punched. He swallowed back his emotions.

“It’s been my biggest regret. You were so tough and you took care of yourself. You made me proud. But I always regretted that I didn’t take better care of you, Pepper. You are my son and I’m proud of you.”

Five years ago that would have meant something. Today it was just bittersweet. He nodded silently, not sure if he could trust himself to speak.

Don climbed into his Cadillac and Pepper finally spoke. “The ownership of the club is in my name?”

“Yes, son. It is. Only you, me and City Hall knows.” Don drove off and Pepper licked his lips and closed the door.


Pepper, where the fuck are you with my E?! I thought you were going to hook me up. Fuck!

Pepper listened to the message and then erased it. It was the third one left by Donnie.

He had just left the post office and was on his way to a garage. He had slipped an envelope in the mail addressed to Lane. It named him as the new owner of the club. He went inside what appeared to be a run down garage and scanned the area. It looked legit but he knew it was a chop shop.

A young Asian man was under the hood of a car when he noticed Pepper. His eyes lit up in recognition and he headed to him while wiping his hands on a greasy rag.

Neither spoke, Pepper followed him out of the garage and into the main part of the building. They walked silently down a corridor and into what appeared to be a little used storage room. The Asian man moved some things and then pressed for a hidden elevator. Both men entered it and went down into a lower level. The man turned on a set of lights and they came on showcasing an ultra clean show room lined with expensive cars.  

Pepper walked directly to a black Jaguar. The corner of his mouth lifted into a slight smile.

“Are you sure you don’t want to sell this? I can get you a newer model-”

Pepper reached into his pocket and pulled out a packet of money. He handed it to the man who reluctantly handed him a set of keys.

“It’s a beauty. I kept her clean for you.”

Pepper walked around the black Super sports car. Custom plates; PPace had been updated and he nodded his approval. With its customizations this car had cost him nearly 200K over seven years ago and it was his baby. He wouldn’t sell it for twice that.

He got in and drove out of the underground garage. He headed for Michelle’s place and blew the horn.

She came out holding an overnight bag and froze. She covered her mouth and then hurried down the walk. Pepper got out and gave her a quick kiss and then tossed her bag into the trunk.

“Uh…wow.” Was all she could say.” He chuckled and opened the door for her.

“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

“I thought you might want to take a trip to Miami for an extended weekend.”

“Miami?! Wow! Hell yeah! I thought we were going to The WildWood Inn or something.”

He chuckled. He had a place in Miami that no one knew about. He thought Michelle would like getting away for a while—maybe for longer than just a weekend…

He wasn’t planning on coming back. But that would be up to her.

She buckled herself in and then ran her hands along the tan leather seats.

“Road trip, I hope?”

“Definitely, baby.”

~3 Months later~

Michelle hurried down the stairs clutching her bag. She climbed into the car. “Hi Papi.” She kissed Pepper.

“You starting to sound like you were born and raised here in Miami.” He appraised his woman’s toned dancer’s body. She’d gotten her cycle that first weekend of their arrival…and neither of them were disappointed.

“How was class?”

“Awesome, but my feet are killing me. Foot rub?”

“What?” He chuckled. “And what do I get out of it?”

“Hmmm. Blow job?”

“You were going to do that anyway.”


“Kidding, Mami. I got your foot rub.”  His phone rang and he answered so that it came through the car speakers.

“Yeah?” He answered.

“Pep. Did you check the news?”

It was Jay calling from Cincinnati. “Yo bro, what’s up?”

“It’s done.”

Pep was quiet.

“The indictments came down. Donnie’s sentence was reduced to fifteen years after rolling on Big Don. Big Don got life.”

Pepper was quiet and Michelle reached out and touched his knee.

“They thought Big Don was the King Pen, and of course he’s taking one ‘for the team’.”

“And Charlie Blue?”

Jay chuckled. “Pissed as fuck that he owes you. But evidently he proved whatever he had to prove to The Supplier and got a big chunk of territory.”

Pepper nodded. “Anything else?”

“Everything is straight. So you can come back, you know.”

He grinned. “I’m cool.” He looked at Michelle. She smiled at him too. “Yeah, I’m cool.”

The End

Saturday, November 10, 2012


When Pepper closed the bedroom door a few moments later, Kitten was again unconscious. He was already dialing Donnie's phone number from his cell phone.

“Hello.” Donnie said.

“Why did you rape the girl in the club?”

“Pepper? I didn’t rape no girl! What the fuck…?!”

“Pepper’s teeth clenched. “Where are you?”

Donnie hesitated. “Why?”

“You at home?”

“Pepper…what the fuck? I told you I was going to cop you a chick—not from the club. I was just about to bring her over to the club to meet you-”

“Then meet me there. You got ten minutes!” Pepper hung up the phone and peeked in on Kitten. Her breathing was even. He closed the door quietly but then stormed down out of the house and to his car. When he got back to the club he asked the doorman if Donnie was there. He wasn’t. And he never did show up. Pepper blew up his cell phone but he must have had it turned off. Pepper didn’t bother to leave a message.
”Lane.” Pepper found him in the office surrounded by invoices. Lane looked up, not surprised to see him.
”I heard about Kitten. She alright?”

"No." He gave Lane a hard look. "Is this what Donnie does? Walk in here treating these girls like they're a part of his private harem? He raped her!”

Lane turned white, and then his eyes burned as deadly as Pepper’s.
"Big Don owns this place, and ultimately everyone that works here. Most of the girls are willing to give Donnie some private room time for some of his cash. Some of the women aren’t. They leave and we can’t keep the good dancers around…not for long, anyways. You’re right. Donnie does think this is his private harem. But what the fuck can I do about it?! The girls watch out for each other…” Lane trailed off and then slammed his fist onto the table.

“This shit is going to end.” Pepper spoke. “This ain’t happening while I’m here. I’m leaving you my number. Call me if you see Donnie back in here.” Pepper left and went looking for Honey. She was in the dressing room putting on enough makeup to work in a silent movie.

“I need to talk to you. Is there someplace private?”

“Not really. She gestured to the corridor that he’d found Kitten. “We can go out there.”

When they were in the darkened corridor Honey looked at him fearfully. Pepper sat on the steps away from her looking at his fist. He unclenched them.

“You know that I’m connected to The Family?”

“I heard you were Big Don’s son.”

He looked at her quickly. “From who?”

“The sick bastard, Donnie.” She suddenly blanched realizing who she was talking to. “Pepper, I’m sor-”

He waved his hand dismissively. “You need to tell me the truth on this. Are any of you ladies working for Donnie; prostituting, drugs, anything?”

“No.” She responded firmly.

“Kitten’s not…”

“Kitten’s not a whore. She goes to school. She’s a dancer. She doesn’t even do drugs. She doesn’t even drink!”

“She doesn’t do Ecstasy?”

“Oh that…Donnie gives us that shit when he’s trying to screw somebody. Maybe he thinks we’ll enjoy it better. I don’t know. You work for them-”

"Only in the same sense that you work for them; I just work in the place that he owns. But I haven't worked for big Don in five years." He looked at her seriously. “And I’m not Donnie.” He stood up and headed for the stairs. “While I’m here you’re going to be safe. But I’m not going to be here forever.” He slammed the door.
When he got back home he noticed that Kitten had rolled onto her side and seemed to be sleeping comfortably. Pepper climbed into bed. It was big enough for two, and he was fully dressed. He yawned thinking that his nightly masturbation ritual was interrupted, at least temporarily. Then he was asleep.
In Pepper’s dream he felt a big fucking rat creeping across his chest. He lurched awake intending to slap the rat away before realizing that he wasn’t in his old bedroom and that it wasn’t a rat, but a hand that was strewn across his chest. Pepper glanced at the sleeping figure next to him. Kitten was sleeping soundly, snuggled against his side. He relaxed.

It had been years since he had been touched in such a way. He was going to move out of her grasp but when he put his hand on hers, for some reason he decided to just leave it there and as a matter of fact, he felt his hand covering hers.
The next time he awoke he was staring into Kitten’s eyes. He blinked at her. She was staring at him but immediately she backed up a bit. “I think I woke you up because I was looking at you,” she said. Her voice sounded much more clear this morning.
He sat up then, too. Kitten had the comforter pulled up to her chin.
”I hope you don’t mind that I slept here. This bed is big enough for two or more people.” Kitten just shook her head.
”I didn’t know where you lived so I brought you here. It was either that or the hospital.” He stood up and yawned. “Do you feel any better this morning?”
She nodded. He opened a box and pulled out some sweats. He sniffed them. “Not too bad.” He handed them to her. They’ve been in storage for five years but they’re clean.”
”Thank you.”
Pepper chewed his lower lip. “I’ll be downstairs.”
He fiddled around. He would’ve made breakfast but he didn’t have groceries, not even so much as instant coffee. But Kitten didn’t dally around upstairs. She was standing in the doorway within minutes. Her torn negligee was balled up in her hand.

“I was going to…toss this,” She looked around for the trash and Pepper took it from her and threw it away. And then headed to the living room where she followed. “Sit down.” He gestured to the couch. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine.” She had her arms crossed around her and one hand was covering her chin, as if she was trying to hide her face.

“How does your head feel?”

“Fine.” She repeated, her eyes big.

Pepper became alarmed. “Are…um are you sure?”

Her throat began to work. “Pepper…can I take a shower?”

“Of course.” He led her to the bathroom feeling a slow burning rage at Donnie. Before he shut the door he took in the look in her eyes.

“Are you sure you’re okay? I can take you to the hospital-” She just nodded her response.


While she was showering he rest to the many market around the corner and got coffee and danishes.
When he returned she was still showering.
15 minutes later he was putting the coffee in the microwave, she was still showering.

Ten minutes later when she was still in the shower Pepper didn't even bother knocking, he opened the door and pulled back the shower curtain. Kitten was standing with her head resting on her chest, arms covering herself and lukewarm water beating down on her head.

Pepper took this all in and then reached out to cut off the water. He put a big towel around her. She was crying silently. He took another towel and dried her braids. He then wrapped the towel around her head.

He helped her step out of the tub. Tentatively he put one arm around her and the other  and drew her to him. She put her for head against him. After moment she dropped her arms that had formed a shield around herself, and allowed Pepper to hold her closer.
"Thank you, Pepper,” she whispered.

“You’re welcome, Kitten.”

Pepper was a man that stood alone, and liked it that way. He had brothers and sisters that were scattered around and ex-lover that he never trusted and friends that he didn’t allow to get too close. Pepper had two desires in life; one was for his mother to stop prostituting and the other was for his father to accept him as his son.

For the first time in years Pepper had a third desire and that was to never have to nurse—or ever look at another beaten woman.

If it was difficult for him to take her home and leave her, but after they’d eaten the impromptu breakfast he had to; because now he had to track down Donnie.
He called his cell is still got no answer, the little prick. He couldn’t hide forever! He went over the river where the projects were located and where the drugs flowed freely and the prostitution ran rampant. To Pepper this had been home. As he hung out and reconnected with old running buddies he casually asked about Donnie. Every time he asked it was the same story, Donnie was fucking up.

Bonita, a Puerto Rican girl that he used to have an on again-off again with made a suspicious appearance. They went back to her place; her kids were at school. She oohed and aahed at his muscles and tats. And Pepper knew even before they fucked that he was going to pay for this.

Pepper and Bonita were always be good together--in bed. Out of bed she reminded him too much of his mother in the way that she was always trying to cop some action. Oh but she was gorgeous, even after having three kids.

"Pepper," she said after round number two. "I missed you." She kissed him. Pepper stroked her ass thinking about Kittens. "Did you miss me?”

"I missed this, and these two… but especially this."
Hours later after he had taken a quick shower and was getting dressed, Bonita watch him from the bed.

“When am I going to see you again?”
Pepper swept his long hair back behind his ears. “I don’t know, baby.”

"Pepper," he looked at her and knew what was coming. "We should have never ended it. Since you've been away, I’ve had time to learn what’s important. I love you Pepper. I have always loved you.”

"Bonita. I've known you since I was a kid. I love you too. But only in the way that I can."
She got out of bed in a rage, her nudity not interfering with her fury. “What the fuck does that mean?! Is this all it’s about for you? Is this is all we’re ever going to be?”
Pepper pulled on his jacket as if he hadn’t heard her. He opened the door and Paused. “I’d like to see you again, but not like this.” His back was to her and he was closing the door.

"Pepper, wait." She sighed. "I know you can't stand when we get like this, when I get like this. I want to see you too, no pressure.” Pepper came back and kissed her.
”Okay. Then I’ll see you again, no pressure?”
”I promise.”
”I’ll call you tomorrow.”

He knocked on kitten’s door. He had intended to go home and get ready for the club. But all he could think about was Kitten's battered face--and the fact that he had left her alone. What if…
She opened the door with a smile. Pepper’s heartbeat quickened. Despite the swollen lip and her half closed eyes, Kitten was beautiful. She was wearing a multicolored wrap around her head as well as jeans and a pretty blouse. Out of her work clothes she seemed to be a totally different person.
”Pepper.” She spoke through clenched teeth. “Come in.” He gave her a wary look. Kitten’s tone was friendly but her teeth were clenched.

"I just-" he pointed back the way he had come. Kitten grabbed his arm and pulled him into the apartment.
"Come in." Reluctantly he did. After closing the door she turned to him and bared her teeth.

They were wired shut.
"Hairline fracture." She managed. "Come on in. Have a seat." She led him into a very nice living room where she cut off the television.

“Something to drink?”
”Uh, water.” She left the room. There was a sick moment when Pepper found himself admiring her ass before he remembered that just the night before she had been beaten and raped. He clinched his own teeth, thinking about Donnie.
Kitten returned with two bottled waters, then she sat down next to him.

"Thank you for last night."
"You don't have to thank me. I went and had a talk with Honey. She and Lane both told me that Donnie has done this before.”
Kitten stiffened and then nodded. “Maybe not as bad as he’s done to me. I think most women consent after he pushes so hard. Then he gives them money and they either leave or accept it.”
”But you wouldn’t consent?”

"I couldn't." Kitten looked at him intently. "I've never been with a man before, I'm not…I mean, I like women."
Pepper raised his eyebrow but concealed his surprise as best he could.
”Oh, man…” then he shook his head. Geez, that makes what happened even worse. “Kitten, I’m sorry-”

"Why are you sorry? You didn't do it."
"I was security that night. Donnie went into the office when no one was watching and went downstairs. That’s my fault. You ladies should never have to worry about walking around the club. Kitten what’s your real name?”

"Michelle. Michelle Green."
"Michelle, nothing like that will happen again while I'm around."
"Pepper," she shook her head. "How? He’s Big Don’s son…” She shook her head, “You can’t go up against people like that.” She gestured to him. “You’re a big man and everything but-”

“just believe it. Kitten, Michelle, trust me."
She chuckled which sounded strangely sinister through her clenched teeth.
"I wasn’t just raped or beaten. I was called a nigger; a whore. I was bitten, punched, my head slammed into the concrete wall and drugs forced down my throat. And it was all done buy a dirty pig! I was you humiliated, Pepper. But more than that, he made me feel like I was nothing; dirt.” Pepper blanched at her words. “You ask me to trust you. Why should I?”

“What do you want to happen?” He asked simply.
”Loaded question.” She said coolly. “I want him to die.”

"You want me to put a hit on him?" He was incredulous—not because Donnie didn’t deserve it, but because even talking like that could catch her a case.
This time when she smiled it was real. "No Pepper and I'm sorry. I don't mean to dump on you. But for me, it’s more than just not having him come back to the club. Obviously, I’m not going to the cops. But in some way he should pay.”
Pepper contemplated for words. “Okay.” He said and walked to the door. “I’ll make sure he pays.”
Michelle jumped up and followed.

“Pepper? What are you saying? You’re going to get yourself killed going up against Big Don’s son!”

"Michelle, Big Don’s my father." She gasped. He held up his hand. "Let me be honest with you. He's never been a father to me. That’s neither here nor there. The point is I’ve worked for him since I was a kid. I’ve gone to jail for him. I’ve…killed for him. I am Big Don’s reputation. Anything that you’ve heard about him being bad-assed, I did it. Now, you want Donnie to pay, then do me two favors.”

Michelle nodded silently.
"Never discuss what I just told you. And never saying out loud that you want Donnie dead." Pepper closed the door behind him leaving Michelle speechless.
Pepper’s cell phone rang early the next morning. He was wide awake because he had been working out.

“Pepper.” It was Big Don. “Let’s meet.”
”When?” He wasn’t the least surprised by the call.

“Okay. Where?”
”Meet me at Sooky’s lounge.”
Pepper swept sweat away from his four forehead. “I’ll be there.” He tossed the phone on his couch and then went up to shower. He expected Donnie to have Big Don intervene on his behalf. Fine. Pepper was planning to play it close.
Sooky’s lounge was Big Don’s hang out. It was where Pepper had first set eyes on his father—what he approached him for a job at the age of 11.
Big Don was already waiting at the bar when Pepper arrived at quarter til. For the first time ever Pepper saw Don, Sr as the 50-year-old man that he was; a little warm, a little old.

He sat down next to him.
"Donnie’s testing you," he said nonchalantly, sipping a beer. Pepper frowned. "He's feeling you out.”

Don turned to him. "My son’s jealous of you Pepper. Because you're more my son than he’ll ever be." Peppers shock at Don’s confession was evident on his face. After all of these years he was finally admitting it. Peppers heartbeat quickened, but he remained silent, waiting for his father to continue.
”When you walked through that door asking for a job, do you think that I didn’t know you were my son?” Don looked him squarely in the eyes. “I knew who you were. I’ve always known who you were. I was happy when you came to me, happy to be able to give you something. Of course, when you came around Donnie took the back burner.” Don looked away. “I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m not a son of a bitch. I’m no father of the year.” He stared at Pepper again. “But it was pretty evident that you were going to be the one to walk in my footsteps. Donnie, he’s soft. But you,” he said proudly. “You're me."
Pepper watched him silently.
"Donnie wants to be you, but he can't handle it. I gave him Over The River but Donnie can’t walk in your footsteps. He screwed up big time. What he did at the club is proof of that.”

“He told you about what happened at the club?”
”No. He didn’t. Lane told me. Why did you tell me?”
”Because I’m used to solving problems. That’s what I do.”
”Pepper. You’re a hit man. Is that how you’re planning to solve this problem?”

"I remember doing more for The Family than killing." He was angry but his words were calm. "But no. I wasn't planning to kill your son. I was hoping to just ban him from the club and maybe yell at his ass for being so stupid.”

Don watched him closely. "I can't run his family forever. When I retire, I want it to be you that steps in."
Pepper inhaled, willing himself to remain quiet.
”Pepper, I know that I haven’t always been there for you. This is what I want to do for you to make it up.”
Pepper considered the bar top. ”And what if I no longer want to do this?”
Don placed some bills on the bar and walked away.
When Pepper got back to the house, his brother was sitting on his waiting for him. He stood as Pepper approached.

“You!” Pepper pointed at him. “Are banned from the club!”

Donnie nodded. “I know. Pepper, man, I’m sorry. I was fucked up that night.” Pepper unlocked the door and they went inside.

“Were you hiding?”

“Hell yeah.” Donnie replied honestly. “You were pissed. Were you going to kick my ass?”

“Yeah.” He studied the man that was his brother. “You really hurt that girl. She makes her money with her looks. And you took that away from her.” His brown eyes darkened and Donnie quickly reached for his wallet.

“I know, man. Here give her some money.”

Pepper wouldn’t touch the bills. He sat down on the couch and stared at Donnie until he dropped them on the side table.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Pepper finally asked, disgusted at the sight of him.

“Pepper,” Donnie shook his head with shame. “Look, man. I don’t know why I did that to that girl. I am so sorry.”

Pepper just scowled. “What kind of shit have you been taking?”

“Ecstasy, bath salts. Definitely no H or ‘caine.”

“Is that it? You know Don is not down with drug use in The Family.”

“Fuck Don!” Donnie spat. “He leaves me out in Niggertown to hang. Those fuckers see me walking in and they want to cut my throat—white man, already paid, trying to give them orders.” Donnie sat down across from Pepper.

“Charlie Blue is talking shit like he wants to take over. You know what Don’s going to want me to do. But I’m not a fucking goon! I take out Charlie then his boys take me out! When you was running things over there you busted heads enough to remind people who the boss is, and they know you! You grew up over there. Me, I’m an outsider!”

Pepper stood and got them beers from the fridge. “Tell Don to put someone else on it then.”

“There is no one else to be put on it—except you.” Donnie eyed him closely. Pepper sat down and watched him nonchalantly.

“So I bust the skulls Over the River and you manage the club?”

“I’m more suited for that kind of work.”

Pepper gave him a doubtful look. “I don’t know Don, raping the dancers isn’t part of the job description.”

“No man. It was that high and mighty acting bitch! I never raped anybody before. She wouldn’t take the money.” Donnie appealed to him. “But I know I fucked up, Pep. Is she cool? She didn’t go to the cops did she?”

“No. I took care of it.”

“So giver that money and tell her…I don’t know.”

Pepper looked at the ceiling. “…that you’re sorry.”

“Yeah. Tell her that I’m sorry.”

When Donnie left they had an uneasy truce—or so Donnie believed.

Pepper called Bonita and met up with her for a few hours. And then before going to the club he paid another visit to Michelle.

She had a wary look on her face when she saw him but still let him in. “How are you?” He asked.

“Better.” The swelling around her eyes had subsided but the bruises were horrible and ugly.

Pepper reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills. “Here.”

She took them. “What’s this?”

“This is from Donnie.”

Michelle’s eyes grew hollow and she began counting the money. Tears glided down her cheeks. She looked at Pepper bitterly.

“This is the value of what he took from me?!”

“No,” he said earnestly. “This is just your lost wages.” Pepper decided not to tell her about his half-hearted apology. “Michelle take this money. If anybody should be paying your lost wages it should be him. After a moment she gripped the bills and turned her back to him.

“If you need anything call me. Lance has my number.” Pepper left. His mood that night was dark but he couldn’t manhandle anybody or toss them out on their ass because one look at him and everyone was on his best behavior.

The next week went like that until he looked up on stage to see Kitten bouncing her considerable rear.
After her set he stopped her on the floor.
”Hey. Nice to see you back.”

She smiled. "Think anybody will notice that my jaw is wired?"
"I don't think anyone's looking at your jaw."
"Pepper. Did I tell you thank you?”

"I haven't done anything for you to thank me for…yet."
"Pepper, what are you going to do?" She whispered.
Pepper smiled. "Slip a little word in the right someone’s ear. Sit tight.” She looked at him with appreciation and Pepper felt a yearning; unfamiliar and unwanted.
The next day he paid another visit to Jay to confirm that Charlie blue did in fact want to cut The Family out of the loop.

"Why is Donnie still alive?" Pepper asked honestly.
"Because you're out of jail, man. And not just you, big Don is nobody to fuck with.” Jay gave him an odd look. “Did you know that Donnie’s been messing around with Bonita?”

Pepper couldn't even mask his surprise. "It seems my brother has been trying to walk in my footsteps." He put that issue aside with surprising ease. Bonita was becoming increasingly annoying and not worth the effort. He had already decided to cut their ties.

"I heard Donnie was on this bath salt kick, is that it? "
"I haven't heard of him coping anything harder."
"Where does he get it?”

"I don't know, man. Not from anybody around here. I guess big Don's supplier." Jay lit a joint. "You going to step back in, Pepper?”
Pepper knew his response was going to make or break Donnie. He decided to play it close. “I’m not doing anything until I get my bearings back. What do you hear about the guy I got sent up for killing?”
Jay gave him a knowing look. “That it was sloppy and not your usual work. I am not going to ask, Pepper, because I already know. Just watch your back.”

Pepper call Donnie and asked him to meet at Sooky’s lounge.
”Yo bro.” Donnie slapped hands with him happily.
"Donnie. Let me buy you a beer." They ordered. "I'm worried about you Donnie."
"Why? What's up?" His brow furrowed.

“I’m hearing that things Over the River are somewhat tense.

"What are you hearing?" Donnie's voice was now tinged with fear.
"Word is that Charlie Blues the only one keeping the others from taking you out.”
”Charlie Blue? But he’s the one that I thought most wanted me out.”

Pepper blew out an annoyed breath. "I'm sure he does want you out, but not dead. I don't think Charlie wants any beef between Big Don…or me. Why would he want a war? Especially if he knows you want out and he thinks he can slip in. Not that your father would ever allow that to happen. He holds on to his things with a tight fist.”
Don sipped his beer contemplating Pepper’s words.

“What are you doing to protect yourself?” Pepper asked with finality. The question was understood; not WE but YOU.

Pepper spent the next days developing a comfortable  routine. He got up in the morning, have breakfast at the diner. He worked out for a few hours. Went back home to shower, grabbed a late lunch and went to work. Some days he and Jay hung out, some days he and Donnie did it. The one person Pepper didn’t want to see was his father.

It was too difficult for him to keep his real emotions undercover. Pepper feared that he might just lose it and tell the man everything he’d been itching to tell him for the past five years.

At the club, Lane let him do the bookwork and deal with the headache of payroll, impressed at Pepper’s efficiency. Therefore, he no longer did much floor work which was fine with him. Since he quit it with Bonita the dancers were an unwanted distraction.

He was absorbed in the books when he heard a faint scream. Without a second thought he jumped out of the chair to rush out of the office. Already, everyone; dancers and patrons alike were gathering around one of the private rooms. Pepper’s heart pounded with dead.

Pushing people aside he saw Honey hugging a sobbing Kitten.

Bucky had a weasley man against the wall firing questions at him.
"Michelle!” Pepper rushed to her and pushed Honey aside. "Sweetie, what happened?”

"He was touching me!” She choked with tears streaming down her face. "His…his… was touching me." She buried her face into his chest. Gently, Pepper took her by the arm and gave her back to Honey.

"Take her to the office." He said. Honey looked at the anger in Pepper’s eyes before hurrying Michelle off the floor.
He grabbed the cowering man by the lapels. “One time is all I’m going to ask. What did you do to her?”

“I…I thought…some of the girls…” Pepper dragged him out of the club by the scruff of his neck. He flung him effortlessly. "Don't come back!"
He returned to the office. Michelle was sipping from a mug, a blanket around her shoulders. Lane looked at him. “What happened?”

“One of the patrons got to touchy-feely.” He kneeled before Michelle. “You okay, sweetie?”
She nodded. “I just freaked out a little. He wouldn’t stop-”
”Shh, I’ll take you home.”

“No. Pepper I’m okay. If you’ll just walk me to my car. Honey went to get my things.”
”Sure. No problem.”
Pepper escorted Michelle outside noting that she trembled beneath a blanket. He put a protective arm around her and she visibly calmed. Pepper thought fleetingly of his mother, how she would come home in the middle of the night in tears over some bad trick.

Pepper saw Michelle safely to the car and she smiled at him apologetically. "I know I freaked out in there-" but Pepper wasn't listening. Something across the parking lot had his attention. “What’s wrong? Pepper?”
”Hold on.” He rushed to a parked car but the driver sped away before he could reach it. It was the guy that he’d just tossed out. Pepper noted the plate number. Fucker was laying in wait for Michelle!
When he got back to the car Michelle’s eyes were like sauces. “Was that the man from the club?! Pepper, he was going to follow me home!”

Pepper knelt down in front of her window. "He's gone-"
"For now! What if he's up the street" Pepper opened her door.
"Move over. I’m going to drive you home.”

"What about your car?" She asked but he didn't hesitate to climb into her car.
"I'll get a cab."
Michelle sighed in relief.
"I know I look like a big baby,” he glanced over at her. The blanket was opened, plainly showcasing her beautiful brown breasts through the sheer material of her costume. Her ebony legs crossed at a set of luscious thighs. His eyes met hers.
”Not in the least.” Michelle gripped the blanket around her more securely.
When they got back to her apartment Michelle looked around warily.

"Pepper, do you think you could stay for a while?"
He turned off the car. "No problem." He got out and hurried to the passenger side to help her out, then he led her protectively inside of the building. Not that he thought they were being followed, he had been watching for that, but it was obvious that Michelle wasn’t completely over what Donnie had done to her.
She visibly relaxed when they were inside. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to change.”
Pepper made a call on his cell phone. “Hey, do me a favor. Run this license plate for me…”

Michelle was back within a minute dressed in jeans and a college sweatshirt. She looked so different in regular clothes. Oddly, he preferred her in the jeans and sweatshirt.
"Is that the college you’re in?"
"Yeah. How did you know I was in college?”

"Honey mentioned it." They sat down on the couch. "What are you studying?"
"Interior design, and dance. I only have a few more months before I graduate and I can start an internship so I won’t be at the club much longer.” She studied her hands. “I wasn’t going to return…but I need to pay for school and its good money.”

Pepper thought about that. While he enjoyed watching Kitten perform, no--he more than enjoyed it, he was still pleased to know that she had something better lined up.
”That’s good Michelle. You shouldn’t have to…” he let the sentence trail off.

Michelle looked at him curiously. "The club is good money. But you're right. I shouldn't have to shake my ass to make a living. Pepper, you just don’t seem like someone who would work for…a criminal. I mean, I can see that it was bad for you at some point in your life—and not just being in jail, maybe growing up. You wear it like a badge. Its like, ‘Don’t mess with me, I’ve been screwed with by the best and you can’t compete!’”

Pepper’s brow rose quizzically.

“But there’s something else, too. You’re not like the thugs out on the street. They revel in the corruption like…Donnie. He uses it. But you don’t.”

“Michelle, “ Pepper shook his head. “I don’t work for Big Don. Not anymore. But yeah, I used to be what you described. I used to hurt people even when I didn’t have to; and I liked it.”

Now it was her turn to look at him quizzically. “But everyone thinks you’re just biding your time-”

He leaned slightly in her direction, not in a threatening way, but in curiosity. "You've been asking about me?"
He saw Michelle’s ebony skin glow with a red undercurrent. He was amused. She was blushing.

"I just," she stammered, "wanted to know more about the guy who's been helping me."
He made a dismissive sound and then relaxed back against the couch and folded his arms across himself. “Then you best ask me because nobody out there knows who I am. No one.”
”You’re not mad are you? “
Pepper did chuckle then. “If you ever see me mad, you won’t have to ask. What do you want to know about me?”

She smiled, relaxing. “I don’t know. I don’t want to be nosy.”
”then can I ask you a question?”
”Yeah. What?”
”When did you know you were a lesbian? If that’s not too personal.”

She looked at him surprised. “No, not at all.” She stood up and went to the kitchen. “You want a beer?”
”Sure.” She returned with two beers. Hers had a straw in it. She sat down beside him again, picking up a throw pillow and cradling it.
”First, let me clarify. I’m not a lesbian.”
Pepper’s expression grew confused.
”I’m bi. So that means I grew up thinking that I was completely normal. I had crushes on the cute boys at school, but I also had crushes on the cute girls.” She shrugged. “I guess I assumed all girls were like that. When I was a kid the attraction to females was pretty innocent, nonsexual. I didn’t want to be around boys, they were so uncouth-”
”Hey, I take offense.” Pepper joked mildly. “Girls weren’t annoying with all the giggling and whispering?”

"Then you would've thought I was very annoying because I was the biggest giggler and whisperer. My first kiss was with a girl and my second and my third. But I didn't think I was, different. Then one day someone call me a lesbo and then I knew that not all girls wanted to kiss another girl.” She sipped her beer.

“I decided to pursue something with a guy. But, I’m not attracted to all guys just as I am not attracted to all girls. So, some of these guys really got on my nerves, especially considering how uncouth I thought boys were back then.”

"You didn't try dating someone you found less disgusting?"
"Well, the guys I liked weren't necessarily attracted to me. Hell Pepper, I’m dark skinned and that ain’t always what’s hot. Some guys called me a Nubian princess and other just thought I was too ‘black’.” She shrugged. “Most were trying to get with the perky head cheerleader—including me.”

“Are you telling me that you never dated a guy that you were attracted to?”

"No, I did. Much later though, once I got this booty." She laughed. "But it was much different dating a man; all the testosterone. Girls are just girls and I know where we’re coming from.”

Pepper contemplated for words. "But the sexual attraction, didn't that drive you to experiment?"
Michelle studied the floor. "Men don’t want to hear this but I don’t think a man can make me feel what a woman can make me feel.”
Pepper put his beer on the cocktail table and leaned forward again, this time in all seriousness.
"Michelle, pleasure comes from being with someone you really want or care about. Maybe the mechanics are different, but coming from personal experience I’ve had sex with the number of different women, each with their own level of expertise. And believe me, the most meaningful sex was with the person I cared about.”
Michelle stared at him openly. “Damn, you just broke down my life in three sentences.” Her gaze lingered on his eyes for a few more moments. “Pepper, I don’t want you to get revenge on Donnie for me anymore. Don’t get back into the crime life.”
”Michelle, baby. I wasn’t planning to rejoin that life.” He sighed. “But Donnie and I, we have some history that needs some repayment.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.” He stood up. “I’m going to all a cab.”

“It’s late…you can stay here tonight and I can drive you back to your car in the morning.” Quickly she added. “This couch pulls out into a very comfortable bed…and I could really use the company.”

He too was enjoying the company. He didn’t think he’d ever had such deep conversations with a woman before. He sat back down.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. It’ll be nice to have some company.”

“You’re not…seeing someone?”

Michelle shook her head. “No.”

“I thought you and Honey-”

“Honey showed me the ropes. She’s a friend but never that kind of friend.”

“So…no one from the club?”

“No, I’m attracted to good girls. Besides,” her expression became amused. “It’s not good to mix business with pleasure. If I…fucked one of those girls I wouldn’t ever be able to shake her loose. Not good.”

He gave her an appreciative nod.

“So I think I have a question for you. What kind of girls attract you?”

He stared at her. “I think we’re attracted to the same type.”

Michelle ordered a pizza and they talked for most of the night until she fell asleep. Pepper covered her with an afghan and then grabbed the pillow off the couch and stretched out on the floor.
The next morning Michelle woke him up apologetically.
"Pepper." She said them kneeling over him as he opened his eyes sleepily. “Your back is going to be killing you.”

He sat up slowly and she move back slightly. "I've slept on the floor before, many times." He stood up and stretched.
"What time is it?”
”A little after seven.”
He went to the restroom. His hair was a mess. Pepper splashed his face and then gurgled with some of the Michelle’s mouthwash. “Hey Michelle, can I use your hairbrush? I promise I don’t have cooties.”

“Go ahead.” She came to the door of the bathroom and watched as he drew the brush through his thick hair.

“Uhm…may I?”

He looked at her and shrugged. He handed the brush and then sat down on the toilet.
Michelle gathered Pepper’s long hair in her hands and he gently brushed it back. He closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of the bristles against his scalp.
"You have the most beautiful hair, Pepper. But you probably hear that all the time.”

“Mmm,” he sighed. “Yeah.” Someone had once described him as having wild Samoan hair. He wore in either one of two ways; long down his back or pulled back into a single braid.

“I’d love to braid this.”

Pepper grinned. “Every black woman that I’ve ever dated has braided my hair.”

Michelle paused. “You’ve dated a lot of black women?”

He nodded. “I’m attracted to dark skinned women.” Michelle continued brushing.

“You let your girlfriends braid your hair?” Pepper turned to look at Michelle, causing her to stop brushing.

“Don’t tell anybody…but I kind of like it. It feels good having someone else’s hands on m head. Course I take the braids right out which always pisses them off.”

Michelle grasped a few strands and then twirled the ends around her fingers. “I’d do your hair whenever you like.” She allowed her fingers to run through his locks and up the back of his scalp where she scraped him firmly with her nails.

Pepper shuddered and allowed his head to drop forward. He groaned.

“Mmmm that feels good. Scratch again.” He prompted. She complied, alternating between rubbing and scratching. Before she knew it her hands had moved down over his neck and shoulders and she kneaded his taut muscles.

“Your muscles are really tight.”

“Sleeping on the floor,” he mumbled, lost in the feel of the impromptu massage. “Michelle,” he murmured. “Stop.”  

“What?” Her hands slid away.

Pepper drew his fingers through his hair and pulled it back into a quick braid, tying the end with a black ponytail holder. He stood up and looked at her. The small bathroom felt really confined, forcing them to stand very close. The urge to kiss her was strong. Pepper had to take a step back.

“We should probably go.”

Michelle swallowed. “Yeah. Let me get my purse.” She moved past him embarrassed. When Pepper was alone in the bathroom he blew out a log breath and then followed her.

Once Pepper had returned back to his car he took a few moments to reassure Michelle. “If you need anything let me know.”

“Pepper, thank

“Shh. Not a problem.”

We got home he was tired but it was the end of the month and if his plan was to work he would need to get it completed. But first things first.
He called one of his contacts. "Yo man, did you run that license plate? Yeah. Hold on." He grabbed a pen and something to write on. “Okay. Thanks, man. I owe you!”

Pepper changed clothes and headed to the library. He got off the computer and began typing up a letter. It said:

I know who you are Mr. Sodaris, but you don't know who I am. I know where you were last night. You better never go there again.
-Signed, A Friendly Advisor

Because Pepper had been finger printed, he used a tissue to remove the paper from the printer and to fold it. Not that he was normally an overly cautions person, but then again, if worse came to worse, Mr. Sodaris might be in line for a good old fashioned ass kicking and Pepper wasn’t looking to end up in jail for another seven years over something like that.

He drove to Mr. Sodaris’ house and dropped the letter into the mail; hopefully unbeknownst to the neighbors.

He decided to have breakfast Over the River to show his face, but the last person that he wanted to see was the first person he saw; Bonita.

He masked his distaste. “Hi baby.” She said happily and sat down at his booth.

Pepper looked past her in a distracted way. “Babe, I got some business. Call me later.” He never quite looked at her.

She rose to her feet disappointed. “Pepper…”

Then he did look at her and the dislike was unmistakable. “Business,” he said cautiously, “comes before pussy. You know this.”

Bonita stood up, speechless. One thing she’d always liked about Pepper was the way he treated her; with respect. Even when everyone else on the street knew her as just the local trap Pepper always made her feel like she was important to him—until now.

She licked her lips, biting back a sarcastic retort. “Okay.” He didn’t look like he was handling his business. But if he was…the last place she wanted to be was in the middle of it. She walked out of the restaurant without another word.

Pepper stayed a while and shot the breeze with one of the cooks. At 11:00 he went to the barbershop on one of the hottest corners.

Many of the younger patrons didn’t recognize him and looked at the long haired light skinned man, trying to figure out if he was Hispanic, black or both. But the barbers and all of the older patrons greeted him enthusiastically.

“Hey Pepper, man, long time no see.” Barney was sporting a shaved head. Back when he used to hang out Barney had a long jeri curl.

“Man what happened to all that hair? Why don’t you hook a brother up with one of those domes.” Pepper joked.

“I know you shitting me.” Barney laughed. “Not the way the bitches was always on your hair.”

They slapped hands and he greeted all the guys he knew.

“Where’s Monique?! She was the only woman that worked at the shop and she was the person that Pepper had entrusted to wash and trim his locks.

“Monique got her own shop last year, over on Covedale.” Marvin spoke. “We got a a new girl. She don’t come in until noon, but I think she can do you up pretty good.” He and Barney laughed a private joke. Pepper sat down to wait.

“So what’s been up, man?” And that’s how he spent the next hour. He learned more dirt on he Family, Charlie Blue and his brother in particular. He decided now was the time to drop his own bombshell.

“You know I’m done with this shit. I got a legit job and I intend to stay on the straight.”

Barney got quiet. Marvin looked solemn. “you worked hard to get where you are.” Pepper shrugged.

“And I got much rewarded.”

“you going to let Donnie take over and fuck up what you worked for?”

“Donnie or…whoever.” Some of the newer patrons had followed the conversation and knew they had got some serious information; an old ‘G’ giving up his claim and the person working it in his absence much disliked. Charlie Blue was only on among many up and coming hoods willing to take over.

The new girl came in and eyed Pepper curiously.

“Shaunda,” Barney said with a smirk. “This gentleman would like to know if you could handle his head. I believe he said that he needed a little ‘trim’.”

Everybody laughed including Shaunda. “I think I can handle his ‘head’. Come on sweetie. Have a seat.” Shaunda was everything that he liked in a woman; dark skinned, nice legs in tight black jeans, nice ass. Her hair was cropped short and natural and her makeup was perfect.

Pepper sat down why Shaunda put a cape around his shoulders.
"Don't pay any attention to those perverts. What do you want done, sweetheart?”

“Wash and trim.”
”You look familiar. Do I know you?”
”I used to hang around. Pepper Pace.”

Shaunda pushed his chair back and remove the ponytail holder and then allowed her fingers to undo his braid. She ran her hands through his hair and smiled.

"Lean back." He did and she turned on the water. She spritzed his hair. "How does that feel?"
"Good, Shaunda."
She got his hair wet and ran her free hand through his curls to prevent tangles. He watched her enjoy it as much as he did.
”You have some pretty eyes, Pepper.”
He smiled. “I bet your boyfriend wouldn’t like knowing that.”

"My boyfriend's not here." She turned off the water and lathered him up with the shampoo. This time he did close his eyes and enjoyed the feel of Shaunda’s nails against his scalp.”

“You like that Pepper?”
”Yeah.” He said quietly. “But I think you like it, too.”
”I like men with long hair.”

He opened his eyes to look at her. "Is that why they're cutting up over there? "
"Don't pay them any attention." She whispered. “I also give an excellent massage.”
Pepper allowed his eyes to roam over the beautiful girl. He would have jumped all over this, except…
"Now that I know that there is such excellent service here, I'll be sure to keep that in mind.”
Shaunda took a long time to wash and trim his hair. Pepper loved every second of the attention. She brushed and blow dried it until it shown. Then he pulled all the hard work back into a ponytail which pissed Shaunda off, to the amusement of the other clients.
He gave her an extra large tip to appease her, and promised to return in two weeks; a promise he look forward to keeping.
Pepper decided on some new shoes. He left the barbershop and walked two blocks over to the neighborhood’s high-end and clothier. From previous conversations with Jay and Donnie he knew that Mr. Johnny’s sat dead center of Charlie Blue’s territory.

His approach was peeped and word spread out to Charlie before he even reached the store. He had barely tried on one pair of shoes before a tall dark skin brother strolled in wearing an expensive jogging suit.
”Pepper Pace.” They slapped hands cordially.

"What's up, man?" Pepper asked while handing the sales person the shoes of his choice. "Ring this up in blue, black and tan; tan , not brown.”

Charlie I am cautiously. "What's up with you, man?"
Pepper returned the look. "I'm thinking that I'm thirsty as hell and wouldn’t mind having a drink at Sooky’s except there’s too many eyes at Sooky’s.”
Charlie looked him over quickly.  “I wouldn’t mind a drink myself. You know the back room of this joint has been known to hide a bottle or two. Why don’t you meet me back there in five?”
They slapped fists and Pepper walked away.
A few moments later the two were sitting on benches facing each other.

"You got pen and paper?" Pepper asked.
Charlie looked at him curiously. "Sure." He got something to write with.
Pepper gave him a name and a phone number.

"Who's this?"
"Your new supplier."
Charlie's mouth opened but Pepper spoke before he could.
"You can cut out big Don, but you can't cut out the supplier. Besides, whoever you’re dealing with now couldn’t handle all of this weight. Over the River can be yours with no bloodshed. Handed to you on a silver platter. You just need to prove that you can bring in ore profit than Donnie.”

Charlie’s smiled humorlessly. “That wouldn’t be hard to do.”

“Let me make my move first, then you make yours.”

“What move?”

“You’ll know.” Pepper stood up.

“What’s your cut, man?”

“We never had this talk. That’s my cut.”

“Are you fucking serious? You’re going to keep me in your debt?”

“Don’t worry about it, man. You won’t be seeing me around here.”