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 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.”
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’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.
”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?”
”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.
“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.
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.”
“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?"
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.
"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.”
“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?”