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Chapter I

 

 

I made my voice deep and croaky, like a pissed off bullfrog that had hopped up on the greasy counter in Mama Pearl’s Cajun Kitchen and lapped up too much black pepper and hot sauce.

I said, “Baby, put that gun down. Guns ain’t nothing to play with. I know you’re a little upset with me right now. But let’s not take this thing too far.”

 Sometimes these women need to be reminded that a man was put on this earth to be in control. They know where the first rib came from and it wasn’t from Fat Fannie’s Rib Shack on Piedmont Rd. They also know it was Eve who got suckered by the lizard in the holy garden under the big shade tree. That’s why everything’s so messed up today.

Of course, bedeviled from birth by great humility and not one to abuse my God-given powers, I sprinkled a little sweet talk around the extremities of my request, just for her sake, you know, a slight disclaimer of “pretty please” here, and “Double-Dumplings” there. Overhearing my limited rendition of sweet nothings, some narrow-minded people might’ve taken my kind words as a form of begging. But if you ask me to prognosticate on the fate of narrow-minded people, I would tell you that ignorance is deadly, and not fully understand the true essence of a woman’s rage, narrow-minded people are the first to enjoy the amenities of a steel coffin and slow-moving hearse to the gravesite.

The Bible says a woman was created with a natural-born hair trigger. Although I have yet come across the scripture that embodies this priceless wisdom, Crying Lazarus, a reliable third party source back in my hometown of East St Louis, has assured me it’s in there. Even without his loud, fire-and-brimstone, street-preaching corroboration, the evidence speaks for itself. After being shot, cut and scaled with hot grits, I stand as a credible witness. Women are born with a short fuse that can go off at any time.

How was I supposed to know Loan-A-Bone Pawnshop was going to burn to the ground with Lawanda’s grandma’s hundred year old family heirloom ring inside? I mean, she’s my fiancée, a quiet, unassuming, ever-supportive little brown skinned, big-eyed diva that has been taught by her family to appreciate the finer things in life.  Of all people, I expected her to understand.

 I told her, “I’ve got plenty of smarts, baby. Some people speak of me in whispers as a powerful intellectualist and a great orator. You remember that speech I gave at your family reunion last year before that Jack Daniels slipped up on me? People were just trembling and shaking with their hands over their faces, trying to fight back the tears.”

What the people were doing was a point of contention I didn’t really want to bring up. Her snooty, know-it-all, real estate magnet mama had brainwashed her into believing the people were laughing at me. When we got home that slight misconception escalated into a big blowout with name-calling and personal insults that landed me on the sofa for a few nights … until she came to her senses. I didn’t want to bring it up, but I had to bring it up because I needed her to remember that even a man of my profound stature has human limitations.

I said, “I’m sharp, baby. But I ain’t no fortune teller. I can’t look through the walls like Superman and see that some crooked contractor’s rinky-dink, substandard electrical wiring is about to send the whole shopping center, pawn shop, chicken joint, nail salon and all up in flames.”

That’s when my sweet Double-Dumplings closed her eyes, gritted her teeth and shot me in the arm with her dead daddy’s old 22 pistol.

I think about my friend, Biggie Williams. He lost two gold chains, a flat screen TV and a George Foreman grill in that same fire. But you didn’t see his ole lady pulling out a gun and acting all crazy. With Biggie laid off from his job and another repo man parked outside trying to scoop up his Deville, she had every reason to act a fool. But she didn’t.

I say another repo man as to distinguish him from the first repo man that shamefully extradited that one-eyed monkey Biggie was buying on installments from Jergobbi’s Abused Animal Habitat in the Village. You know those Pakistani people ain’t right over there at Jergobbi’s, repossessing the man’s monkey, especially after he had spent his hard-earned cash buying a fancy clip & flip monocle eyeglass like the ones people of royalty wear over in England.  He was even training that monkey to be a security guard down at Blake’s Convenience Store on Fifth Street where they do all that shoplifting. Whenever those hoodlums tried to steal something, that monkey would clip on his powerful monocle, point out the assailant and then proceed to scream like a hyena. That made the thieves run away. One day the whole store cleared out.

That monkey was a business investment for Biggie before those bloodsuckers at Jergobbi’s took him away. But you didn’t see his ole lady tripping over their operational losses.  She and Biggie tried to deal with the problem in a calm and rational manner.

But you tell me. How was that spirit of cooperation going to manifest itself at our place when Double-Dumplings had a gun in one hand and butcher knife in the other?

I said, “Baby, look around at this fabulous, upscale condo, overlooking Atlanta historic creeks and parks and monuments. We’re a new breed of proud civilized black people with distinction and mutual reciprocity. We’re not savages, baby. We got class. We got to let that domestic violence thing go.”

For a moment it appeared she was calming down a bit. So I stayed on my evolutionary roll.

I said, “You asked me why I waited until you went to sleep and stole your grandma’s ring out of your jewelry box.  In the first place, I didn’t steal it. I borrowed it, like the time I borrowed the two hundred dollars out of our savings account so I could buy you a nice Christmas present. I did it all for you, baby.”

And I meant that. I had planned on getting her something really nice for Christmas if my car hadn’t broken down on the way to the shopping mall. The tow truck took most of the money; I bought a Greasy Barn triple meat and fries with the little bit that was left. I had to get a large strawberry malt to wash it down. Standing out there on the freeway all that time, waiting for that trifling tow truck driver to get there made me mad and hungry as hell.

Now, looking back on our tempestuous condo mishap, and the way she processed my expression of devotion and good will, I probably shouldn’t have brought the tow truck incident up at all. She started ranting and raving; something about being tired and fed up. That’s when she reached out and slashed at my precious face with that butcher knife.

It was a good thing I had watched all of the Muhammad Ali – Joe Frazier fights back in the 70’s. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known to drop my head and turn to the side. I was floating like a butterfly. But I couldn’t sting like a bee … not with my wrists handcuffed to the bed railing. That’s right. I was a hostage in my own condo, going head-to-head with the worst possible adversary … a wild woman, locked and loaded, and driven by scorn.

The tip of the knife nicked me on the chin, sending a skittish trickle of blood down my neck. I figured if I was going to die, I needed to bare my soul so I could meet Jesus with a clean slate.

I said, “Okay, okay just listen. I took your grandma’s ring because I wanted to surprise you with a new engagement ring. I mean, the one I bought you four months ago didn’t exactly live up to the impeccable standards that were originally propagated to me by the seller. I was just as surprised as you when that super glue came loose and the diamond rolled out on the carpet in front of all those high level people at that hotel banquet. Honestly, baby, I never heard of Cubic Zirconia before. The Lenox Square hustler that sold me that piece of crap said it was the real thing. You know I want nothing but the best for you, Lawanda. That’s why I can’t wait for this economy to turn around so I can start looking for me a decent job and give you the things you truly deserve.”

I wanted to continue while the words were getting through to her brain. But I kept hearing the low thunder of a pot boiling in the kitchen.

I said, “You might want to go in there and turn off that big pot of beans, or whatever you’re cooking. We already had one hellacious barn fire over at Loan-A-Bone. We don’t need another.”

I don’t know whether it was the mention of Loan-A-Bone or the misconception I was ordering her around. But she took another swipe at my face with that knife. It forced me to revisit an earlier, tried-and-true strategy with which narrow-minded people would’ve taken further displeasure. You know … begging.

 “Now please, baby, just think about what’s happening here. This could only be the devil trying to come between us. Who else would’ve put the idea in your head to handcuff me to this bed in my sleep? Certainly not my sweet thing, my one-and only Double-Dumpling. Why don’t you throw those keys over here and let’s end this drama? Let’s sit down over a bottle of Courvoisier and work this thing out.”

I reminded her the real villain in this unfortunate state of affairs was Loan-A-Bone. What irresponsible sleaze balls would allow their place of business to burn down without having some kind of insurance or bonding? The owners needed to be tarred and feathered and run out of town.

That’s when the house phone rang. She didn’t answer it. But the familiar custom chimes from the Wilcox Prison pay phone ushered in a new sense of rage on her already teary-twisted face.

 I said, “I know you’re still a little upset with me about that call the other night. Not the collect call from my cousin, running up your phone bill from prison. But the other one from that little lying tramp down at the chicken place. I told you then and I’m telling you now. That’s not my baby. Peaches is just another little street slut looking for a meal ticket. I gave her a ride one time to the bus stop. That’s how she was able to describe the inside of your BMW. And that’s how all this lying started.”

I was hoping she wouldn’t hit me with that same blood test question. But she did.

I said, “Baby, you know I’d be willing to take a blood test. But I keep reading how these sorry, unprofessional testing labs contaminate the evidence. That’s how I got arrested back in ’99, on bad evidence. Even with my legal expertise and vast understanding of judicial estoppelness, it took me a solid year to clear my good name. You can understand that, can’t you?”

She wasn’t listening. Storming out of our small cluttered black lacquer bedroom, she had completely tuned me out.

When she finally reappeared in the doorway, weighted down with a silver hot maw pot, bitter face drenched in a white cloud of steam, she tuned me in again, but this time with an Al Green melody too painful to bear. I found myself singing Call Me,  Let’s Stay Together and Look What You’ve Done To Me … all at the same time.

I said, “Baby, now, now, now, now, now baby. Whatchu planning to do with that pot? Ba-ba-ba-Baby? Lawanda? Sweet thing? Double-Dumplingsssss!#!*!”

That’s it, the whole conversation. I’m telling you people the same thing I told the doctor when I woke up from surgery three weeks ago. He wanted to know how I got shot, cut and scaled with hot grits, all in the same day.


 

Chapter II

 

These women are crazy out here. No appreciation for a strong black man fighting through the toils and snares of the world. I never thought my Double-Dumplings would go berserk and leave the confines of her right mind like she did; a good Christian woman from the peaceful town of Sandy Springs, Georgia.

The Bible says turn the other cheek, not slash mine with a butcher knife. I’m just lucky her brother stopped by her condo when he did.

These three weeks of rehabilitation and psychoanalytic healing at Grady Hospital in Atlanta have helped me to cope with the scares of my abusive relationship with Double-Dumplings. Now it’s just a matter of coping with that $7500 bill they said I needed to pay before I can go home.

Down here in Georgia, they don’t seem to realize the new Obamacare law prohibits such outrageous charges against a person of my meager fiduciary status. Here’s what I told that hair-lip woman from the billing office with that big clipboard and all those forms.

I’m a forty-one year old highly intellectualized legal prodigy from St Louis, Missouri, the show-it-all, know-it-all state. I’m tall and handsome and spoken of in whispers. And yes, I still have a jheri-curl and one half-moon gold tooth in remembrance of our great civil rights struggles during the 60’ and 70’s. I’m a bonafide graduate of Meramec Community College night classes. And I know my rights. Before the Republicans did the numbers and decided it was cheaper to just let everybody die, the 111th Congress House of Representatives passed Bill HR 3962 which prohibits the willful gouging and degeneration of underprivileged patients such as myself. But in the spirit of cooperation, I won’t report you to the government if you don’t report me to the credit bureau.”

I was talking loud like Aunt Gussie use to do at the department store when she was trying to return an item that was two or three years old. It puts pressure on the reciprocal party and forces them to take action whether they want to or not. So far, the only action they’ve taken here at Grady Hospital is put me on an old Army cot they brought up from the basement, and cut my rationings down to one meal a day.

I realize this is a semi-private room. But SEMI doesn’t give them the right to make me spend my last day in a corner on a broken down Army cot.

I could understand if there were a bunch of patients coming in all at once and room space was tight … like when my mother took us to visit Uncle Freeman in Mississippi, and somebody brought a pot of bad hog maws to the church picnic. Since there was no hospital, we all ended up being rushed to the same little country clinic at the same time. Since the town doctor was also the veterinarian, we had to share a room with sick goats, dogs, and parakeets, not to mention a bunch of old people passing bad, Nazi-death-camp gas through their bloomers while keeping a straight face. But at least there was a reason for our constricted misery. What reason did Grady Hospital have for downgrading my hospitality and relegating me to an Army cot in the corner?

They gave my comfortable bed to a straggly, Mr. Peabody-looking white boy with a big purple bruise on his head. Turns out he had a similar domestic experience; only, his torment had been going on for three years. Can you imagine getting slapped around by a big 6-foot-1, 300 pound country-strong Sheriff Deputy for three years? She was using her authority and size to keep the man in check.

I told him, “A strong black man like myself wouldn’t take that kind of crap.”

He started coughing and laughing, coughing from his severe case of emphysema and laughing from what he concluded to be my short-sighted perspective on life.

Peabody spoke with a catty southern drawl. “You bad ain’t cha?”

You better recognize,” I confirmed.

You Shaft all over again.”

I’m Shaft’s daddy, knowemsayin’. Right on, right on.”

You could tell he had spent some time in the hood because he started humming that bonafide Isaac Hayes Shaft theme:

WHO’S THE CAT THAT WON’T COP OUT,

WHEN THERE’S DANGER ALL ABOUT….

 

Hush yorh mouth. You talking ‘bout Shaft, baby.” And then I started making that yo-yo washboard sound in the theme song.

We jammed for a minute. Then Peabody looked at my slashed cheek, bullet-grazed arm and slightly cooked chest. “So why the hell is a strong black man laying here in a hospital bed next to me … Shaft?”

Technically, it wasn’t a bed. It was an Army cot. But I did get his drift. His rare exhibition of logic and wherewithal immediately put us on the same cosmic plane, not to mention the fact that we both had been violated by crazed, psychopath, over-the-edge women.

I wanted to further our acquaintance, especially since he didn’t seem to be interested in that hot Salisbury steak plate the nurse had just brought him. But two slickly dressed suits walked through the door and interrupted our conversation.

The black alligator satchels and expensive imported loafers gave them away as attorneys. The short one did the talking while the tall one rummaged through a stack of documents.

They reminded me of high pressure salesmen with a background in loan-sharking. They kept telling Peabody he’d better accept the offer before they took it off the table.

You’re a maintenance man at a broken down apartment complex. When are you going to see this kind of money again? We advise you to take this $25,000 before it slips through your fingers.”

As it turned out, they represented a cigarette company that was settling small claims left over from the big congressional law passed years ago. Some people have gotten $15 million; Others $5 millions; Others $500,000. And here they were offering him $25,000. It wasn’t my business, but I couldn’t sit there … well, lay there while they took advantage of my new friend.

I said, “You clowns must be out of your mind. This man is suffering from life-threatening emphysema because of those poison white sticks you been dishing out for years. And you want to compensate him with a funky $25,000? Oh hell naw! We’ll see you in court.”

The short lawyer asked, “Who are you?”

I told them I was Bobby Felton Frazier, one of the greatest legal minds to ever come out of the state of Missouri.

Are you a registered attorney?” The tall lawyer demanded.

I’m more than an attorney, baby. I’m a legal prodigy with expertise far beyond anything you could imagine.”  And then I started quoting from the Declaration of Independence: “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal….”

I hated my tenth grade teacher for making us memorize that useless propaganda. But now I could see the true value in regurgitating it in a strategic time of need.

The short lawyer growled. “What does that have to do with this case?”

I told him the same thing that Article Six of the United States Constitution had to do with it. And then I elaborated, “In accordance with the supreme law of the land, the United States government, under the Articles of Confederation, is responsible for debts in pursuance of third party agreements, knowemsayin’? And it must enforce harsh, unmitigated punishment against those in conflict of such agreements.”

What agreement are you talking about?” asked the tall lawyer.

The $206 billion national tobacco settlement, of course. You boys are in violation of Clause 230 which calls for the fair and unbiased compensation of victims damaged by your immoral practices. You’re leaving us no choice but to turn your names in to receive the harsh, unmitigated punishment as set forth by law. But if you was to decide to negotiate in a fair and honorable manner….”

The short attorney looked at his partner. “Why are we talking to this idiot? He had nothing to do with this case.”

The tall lawyer looked at Peabody. “Surely, this nincompoop isn’t representing you?”

Peabody looked at me for a long time. Finally, he responded, “Yeah. Yeah he is. Whatever you need to say to me, you said to him.”

They both look back at me.

I stood up and started pacing the floor like Perry Mason. Actually, it was more like limping the floor, since some of the hot grits had scintillated on my thigh, making it a bit painful to get into my normal cool-daddy stride.

Like I was saying, if you boys are willing to enter into fair and honorable negotiations….”

How fair?” ask the short lawyer.

Off the top, I’d say $750,000 would be a good starting point for a man stricken with deadly emphysema.”

That’s ridiculous!” said the short lawyer. “Our client wouldn’t consider anything over $100,000.”

Offering a man a measly $100,000 when you’ve taken away his only breathing utensils is a disgrace to both our professions.”

Look, I don’t even know what profession you’re in.”

Legal mediation, with a specialization in Jurisprudus,” I said. “And what my prudus is telling me is that we need to be discussing matters along the half million dollar range.”

Forget it. Two hundred thousand is as far as we can stretch.”

Since you boys deflated my character in front of my client, calling me an idiot and all, I’m going to need another $50,000 in slander money, just so I don’t feel the need to wait for you outside in the parking lot.”

Are you threatening us with bodily harm?” asked the tall attorney.

I’m just letting you know how things go down in the hood, baby. Ask Tupac Shakur.”

Who in the hell is Tuu-”

Look, $225,000 is our final offer,” interrupted the short lawyer. “Take it or leave it.”

The tall lawyer started gathering up all the papers.

I glanced at Peabody, signaling him with a slight twitch of the eye. “Are you satisfied with this pathetic offer?”

He nodded in rapid sequence like a brand new bobble head doll.

We want our money transfer to his account within seven days,” I said. “No stall tactics or waiting around until the Federal Reserve stops making pennies or printing out $2 bills.”

Peabody shook his head just as rapidly. “No not my account.”

I found out later his bad-tempered, live-in Deputy girlfriend was on the same account.

Let’s make that a cashier’s check,” I reconfigured. “We’ll pick it up from your office in seven days.”

Once the two soft-shoed sleaze bags had left the room, Peabody turned to me. “Thanks, dude.”

Thanks, hell. Mediation services are not free. We need to talk about the split.”

How about half?” he offered, spiraling off into a coughing frenzy.

How long you been smoking, fool?”

 Peabody finally got his throat back. “Since the eleventh grade. In the trailer parks outside Decatur, it was a cool thing to do; That, and listening to rap music with my homies across the track.”

None of your homies ever bothered to tell you cigarettes would take you out?”

A hustler named Johnny B did. But he died of an overdose smoking crack. Cigarettes offered more of a long term alternative.”

He started coughing again.

The more Peabody coughed, the more his offer cut into the busy itinerary of my vacationing conscious. It was his case, his emphysema, his price to pay for being cool. I had invested, maybe, thirty minutes tops? Half of the proceeds just didn’t seem right.

Twenty percent is the going fee.” I countered.

And I said half.” Peabody scolded me between barks.

An hour later we had agreed on 33 1/3 percent.

We were lying there in our own worlds, plotting out our recently invigorated futures when he asked, “What are you gonna to do with your money?”

I’m starting over fresh, baby. A new car to get the ball rolling.”

What kind?” Peabody asked. “Rover, Escalade, Jag?”

I like that Toyota 4-Runner.”

That ain’t no flash.”

I could already see the scene in my head … Black man in a big white Escalade, pulled over by ten red neck Georgia cops, getting the hell beat out of him for having the arrogance to show a free-and-clear title in his name.

You know why it’s so easy for Po-po5.0 to catch the pimps and drug dealers?”

Why?”

Flash, that’s why. Plus, it’s pretty stupid to pay an extra twenty grand for a luxury decal on the hood.”

I’d pay if it magnetized one of those soft, floozy types that knew how to treat a man. If you had any marbles, you’d pay it too.”

Why?

Maybe it would keep you from taking swimming lessons in a pot of hot grits.”

Listen who’s talking, Mr. Gun-butt kisser, himself.”

Peabody rubbed gently across the purple knot on his head. “Billy club this time.”

Jesus Christ, man. Did she give you a reason?”

She accused me of looking at another woman.”

Well, were you?”

Kind of. But she wasn’t looking at me. I mean, who’s going to look at me? I’m just the maintenance guy, you know? I paint a wall here; fix a washer and dryer there; Let some dumbass tenant in who’s lost his keys.” Peabody’s chin was almost touching the floor.

I thought to myself, Why do so many people let their jobs define them?

Hell, I didn’t even have a job. But it didn’t mean I was nobody. I was somebody.  I was unemployed Bobby Felton Frazier with a key map that led directly to the unemployment office.

“Now see, with that low-self-esteem attitude, you’ll never get away from that billy club packing jolly green giant and find yourself a decent woman.”

“What decent woman is gonna want me? I got nothing to offer.”

I quickly reminded him. “Except for those Mr. Peabody glasses, straggly hair and bird chest, you’re not a bad looking fool. And just in case you’ve forgotten, those two clowns that just left here are cooking you up a big pot of greenback soup.”

He struck a shameful pose in the small dresser mirror across the room. “Even with money, I’m never gonna meet the type of classy broads you see on these videos.”

“Please! Don’t even think about rating those broads as classy. They’re just boodie-shakers and rap star groupies. You definitely need to raise your standards, baby. Set your sights on some of those sho-nuff gold diggers out in LA and the Big Apple.”

Peabody shook his head. “You talking pipe dream, dude. Those broads looking for somebody with heavy flash and Ben Franklins stacked to the ceiling. I ain’t no Kobe Bryant. How can I meet somebody like that?”

At that moment, on the small wall-mounted television above our heads, the commercials ended and a new show popped onto the screen. The music revved up like the beginning of a Broadway play. The announcer said,

“AND NOW LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, IT’S TIME TO MEET JOE MILLIONAIRE”.

We both watched in awe as this young snot-nosed white boy bachelor walked through a harem of beautiful women, handing out expensive long-stemmed roses. These were high-end women in tight shiny dresses and flowing gowns. They were all slobbering at the mouth with a stupid “take me” expression, hoping for a chance to be Joe’s chosen bride.

That’s when the idea suddenly invaded the visionary side of my cranium-enclosed encephalon. We were beating life with a small stick, still operating with self-imposed limitations rather than the brightened futures Benjamin Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant had recently bestowed upon us. We were like free slaves still living on the plantation. It was time to re-emancipate our clouded minds.

I looked over at Peabody. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

He looked back at me. “That stalking is a hard crime to prosecute?”

“No, no look at the screen, baby. What so you see?”

“A crop of hot babes in heat, maybe, from places where stalking is a misdemeanor?”

“What you’re looking at is capitalism in its grandest form, the buying and selling of goods and services in a wide open unimpeded forum. In the ghetto it would be prostitution. But the powers-that-be have repositioned this thing with an elegant smell to it.”

Peabody scratched the side of his head that hadn’t been beaten in. “Okay, but when I look at it the way you describe, I get confused. Who’s buying and who’s selling?”

“That’s the beauty of the whole thing. Everybody’s buying and everybody’s selling. Joe Millionaire is using his money and prestige to buy himself a hot young babe that’ll rock his world when the lights go out. Those gold diggers are using their charm and good looks to buy some high living and long-term divorce security when the judge splits up that white boy’s property.”

“You don’t think there’s a chance they could fall in love? I mean, I see some babes up there on that screen that already have my heart throbbing.”

I shook my head. “If you check again, you’ll discover the throbbing is way below your heart.”

Peabody raised the bed covers to conduct a more thorough investigation. “Point well taken.”

“We don’t have time for love, baby. Our plan has to be executed on the superficial side of the street.”

Peabody frowned. “Plan? What plan?”

“Our plan to put a big target on our backs just like Joe Millionaire and have those greedy sweeties running after us.”

“But we ain’t no millionaires, dude. We barely two hundred thousandaires.”

“Who knows that besides me and you and the lawyers?” I asked.

There was no way those trifling gold diggers had checked Joe’s bank account to see what was really in there? Women don’t process like that. They were buying into the hype and the flash that came along with the show.

Peabody perked up. “You really think we could pull it off?”

“Yeah, but we’re going to have to make some adjustments.”

He frowned. “Adjustments? Like what?”

“Like getting you a decent haircut, and making a few trips to the weight room to recompunctualize that puny chest.”

I didn’t say it right then, but my hope was, with so many seasoned drug dealers on English Avenue, we could find a batch of that ghetto-enhanced Robitussin to put the clamps on his sandpaper cough.

Peabody pondered a long moment. “Anything else?”

“I’ve been calling you Peabody all this time. As your legal representative, business associate and personal friend, I’d consider it a privilege to know your real name.”

“My name is Hadley. Hadley Ross, Jr … thirty-one year old escapee from the trailer parks of Decatur, Georgia and the most reliable, non-stealing, fix-all maintenance man you’ll ever meet.”

“You know, I think I like Peabody better. Why don’t we call you Hadley Peabody III?”

He thought about it. “How about Dr. Hadley Peabody III, dashing young resident from the General Hospital soaps?”

“You know anything about being a doctor?” I asked.

“I just know they cut people open and sleep with the nurses after work.”

I took a moment to evaluate his unique qualifications. “That’s close enough.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?” I fired back at the ridiculous notion of meddling with perfection.

“No offense, but the brothers stop wearing those whip and drip jheri-curls light years ago.”

“Not true. Not true at all. As I pointed out to my former grit-slinging fiancé, Michael Jackson wore a curl right on up to the time of his death.”

“Yeah, but it wasn’t a full drip like yours,” said Peabody. “Plus, he had a good reason with that skin disease and all.”

“I’ve got a good reason too.”

Peabody eyed me thoroughly and shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose, if you’re trying to cover up that little baby scratch across your cheek and short-circuit any future talk about your ass-whoopin’.”

“First of all, your crude and misguided summation of the events of that day dishonor the great restraint I show in controlling my temper. Not too many people know this, but my powerful Kungfu-Jeet Kune Do techniques make me an unregistered weapon of mass destruction. Just my concentrated thoughts alone could probably take out a city block, knowemsayin’?”

Peabody flashed a disbelieving smirk. “Really? Exactly where did you learn this powerful Kungfu Jeetzy?”

“YouTube, baby. All the lessons are uncut and right there for the taking. But you need to ride it slow and easy until you get to my level.”

Peabody took note of the thin white bandages covering the modest burns on my chest. “At what level do they cover grit attacks?”

“This ain’t nothing but a thang, my man. With that new money coming in, I’m heading over to that cosmetic laser clinic on Rust Ave. Before you know it these little scratches will be nothing but baby-smooth memories.”

“And the jheri-curl?” pressed Peabody. “I mean, you just said we gotta be willing to make some adjustments if we want this plan to work.”

I didn’t like that idea; didn’t like it at all. But in the spirit of compromise, and with the pendulum of fashion swinging in the opposite direction of my trendy ‘70’s look, I decided to go with the flow.

“Fine! Fine! Against my better confunctionation, the curl goes too. But don’t ask me to give up my March From Selma t-shirt autographed by comedian Dick Gregory, himself. My uncle gave me that shirt when he came back from one of his many exploits in the great movement. Course, you’re too young and too white to know anything about that.”

Peabody paused. “There were actually three marches from Selma to Montgomery back in 1965, including Bloody Sunday where hundreds of civil rights workers were beaten and tear gassed by Alabama State Troopers.”

My mouth fell open. “That’s absolutely right, Peabody!”

“Dr. Peabody, if you don’t mind.”

“Sure, sure, doctor. My bad. But tell me. How do you know about such a proprietary event?”

“My first girlfriend was a young black history buff that worked at the Decatur library. She was a bit on the chubby side, but smart as a whip with the sweetest lips. Cheryl McCoy ……. Gave me my first kiss behind that dusty encyclopedia rack on the second floor.”

“What happened to her?” I asked.

“Don’t know. One day her parents just upped and moved away.”

“Well, no more chubby girl for you, my man. From this day on, we’re strictly dealing with the A-list.”

“Agreed,” he nodded.

“Now any more complaints from the great trailer park fashion expert?” I asked.

He made a visual sweep across my face. “Nothing, except maybe that gold tooth?”

“Ahhhhhhwww hell naw!!! It took me a full year to save up for this exotic workmanship. Do you know this is pure 24 carat?”

“Name one rich movie star that’s got a gold tooth?”

“How about Lil Wayne?” I asked.

“Lil Wayne’s grill was covered in platinum and diamonds, not gold. And it got so rotten underneath, he had to take it out. Plus, a renowned brain surgeon like myself has no business running around with Lil Wayne.”

“Wait a minute. You were just a General Hospital resident a few seconds ago.”

“That was before the growing demand for a highly trained specialist, familiar with drills and saws, forced me out of my comfort zone,” Peabody explained.

“Fine, fine, brain surgeon Peabody. Who am I to put restrictions on a man’s career?”

I’m just saying. If we’ve got a plan, let’s go all the way, unless you got doubts?”

“No doubts, baby. When Attorney Bobby Felton Frazier lays down a plan, it’s as good as gold.”

Peabody’s face lit up. “I can see it all now, dude. We gonna have em’ begging; begging like blind women on the corner.”

“Begging, baby. begging with a tin cup that only holds the Peabody liquid of love.”

“Eating out of our hands.”

“Like little puppy dogs at supper time.”

“You know why, cause we bad.”

“We badder than bad.”

“We Shaft all over again,” he declared.

“Naw, baby. I’m Shaft’s daddy and you’re his white step-daddy. And there’s nothing going to get in our way. Can you dig it?”

Peabody started up with the Shaft theme again:

WHO’S THE BLACK PRIVATE DICK

THAT’S A SEX MACHINE TO ALL THE CHICKS?

SHAFT!

YA DAMN RIGHT!  I followed up in a deep, frog voice.

And then I chimed in with that yo-yo background. Our jam session was louder this time and hitting on all cylinders. The room was jumping, with the hard smell of testosterone in the air.

That’s when the door swung open and Peabody’s big Lumberjack Sheriff  Deputy girlfriend stormed in.

And that’s when we started to scream.

 

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