Pricey puffed out a curl of smoke, “How’s music?”
“It’s alright,” Kadir said.
Pricey inhaled the curl through his nostrils, “You workin’ on anything?”
“Nah, not really. Just sittin’ on a few beats,” Kadir said.
“You makin’ a beat tape?” Pricey asked.
“Down the line, yeah.”
Flex tapped his blunt, dropping ash. “What’s the hold up? That’s how Johnny Flamez got his start.”
“Money, bro” Kadir said.
“Hit a lick, or sumn’,” Laurel laughed.
“There’s that,” Kadir said.
Kadir wasn’t the robbing type. He didn’t have it in him. He wasn’t big enough. He wasn’t desperate enough. He had needs but none that were that necessary. He knew Laurel was joking, but he also knew—and saw in his short lifetime—that some people were able to rob just at the flick of a switch. Robbing, like selling drugs, wasn’t an option for him.
“Percocet, molly-Percocet,” Pricey sung, “You need a tune like that.”
“You got molly-Percocet money for me?” Kadir asked.
“Shit, when I get this job I might.”
Flex squinted at Pricey, “What job?”
“My unk hookin’ me up with a job at Servpro.”
“What they do there?” Laurel asked.
Pricey rubbed his hands, “Grimy shit,” he smiled.
“Whatchu mean ‘grimy’?” Flex asked.
“You ever seen a suicide?” Pricey asked the group.
Laurel, Flex, and Kadir looked at each other.
“No,” Laurel said.
“Seen one? No. Do I know people who have done it? Yes,” Flex said.
“You ever seen a suicide?” Kadir asked Pricey.
Pricey stood and came down to the broken window and peered out of it, “Nah, not yet,” he looked from Kadir to Flex to Laurel, “But once I land this job I will.”
“Kinda freaky shit you post to be doin’?” Flex asked.
“I’m bouda be a clean up man,” Pricey smiled.
“Mrs. Wallace was right about you going into the janitor field, huh?” Flex joked.
Laurel and Kadir chuckled.
“Not exactly,” Pricey said, “I won’t be cleaning toilets and floors and shit,” he grabbed onto Flex by the throat and looked into his eyes, “More like niggas who hung themselves,” he let go and put finger guns to Kadir and Laurel’s chest, looking at them now, “And niggas who shot themselves.”
Kadir pushed Pricey’s hand away.
“You blowin’ my high, dude,” Flex said.
“Yeah, mine too. And I ain’t even smoke,” Kadir said.
Pricey laughed. He always got a rise out of the other three. He was like an older brother in that way. Not the ideal older brother, not one who set a good example. But he was always there and would do anything for them—or, as he would say, “down to do whatever” for them.
“I’m just fuckin’ around. I’m mostly gonna be cleanin’ up floods, fires, an’ shit,” Pricey said.
“Shit, knowin’ this town, prolly even some homicides too,” Flex said.
Pricey, with a spark of excitement in his eyes, nodded in agreement.
“Well…anyways…” Laurel said.
“Y’all still tryna go to Poppington’s tonight, right?” Flex asked.
“Hell yes,” Laurel said.
“Bet that,” Pricey said.
Kadir did not like Poppington’s parties. They were always crowded and hot and musty. The ceiling seemed way too low. It was dark as hell and he couldn’t see anyone he was dancing with. Or, attempting to dance with. The girls would usually imply they were taken, even though Kadir had taken pains to figure out which ones weren’t. Every now and then he’d step on a shoe or two making his way through the crowd. Nobody’d give him serious problems about it, just serious looks. Any repeated offense though may have brought problems, so he tried to stay careful.
Poppington’s parties were safe for the most part. He’d only seen one fight—which was broken up before he could even see it clearly. Police had never shut down a Poppington party either. It was smart, Kadir thought, that Poppington got permission from the other apartment tenants to throw her parties in the complex. It was also smart that she gave a portion of the entrance fee to the other tenants. Very few people knew Poppington personally. Yet she was one of Baltimore’s tastemakers. Kadir had made it a mission to get to know her somehow.
The day settled well into darkness before Kadir drove to Poppington’s party. He dropped the group off at the front of the apartment complex. A huddle of kids was already lined up at the door. An assortment of dad caps, bomber jackets or Hellys or Northfaces or hoodies, gold necklaces—thick and thin, crisp Balmain jeans, Yeezys (and imitation Yeezys) and every color of Jordans of the rainbow. That’s how Kadir wanted to dress. He had a few fresh fits, but none as lavish as any of these. He managed to somehow look good with what he had, though. Maybe not good enough—yet—to get any of these girls; with their skin-tight jeans, back dimples, manicured hands on their robust hips, unzipped coats—leather or fur—chokered throats, plump, glossy lips, eager eyes, and done up hair.
Kadir went to find parking, but couldn’t. He ended up parking in a Rite-Aid lot a block away, as he did whenever Poppington’s was crowded this early. On his way there he saw a police car with flashing lights at the back of a stopped hooptie. As he made his way back to Poppington’s the police officer was conducting a field sobriety test. The man, large, black, and dreaded, was clearly drunk. He struggled to place one foot directly in front of the other, almost falling once or twice. He then stood up straight like a soldier for an instant, made a face like he had tasted something sour, then bent down and hurled a stream of creamy vomit.
“Let it all out, boy” the officer said. He was a white man, bald with a mustache and smile.
The black man wiped his mouth and spit out the remainder. The officer beckoned in a welcoming way, “Come here, boy. Come get your cuffs.”
The black man obeyed, shaking his dreaded head in frustration before doing so. The officer put the cuffs on him, lowered the black man’s head, and directed him into the back seat of the police vehicle.
It looked almost clownish, a man so big getting into a car that small. Kadir had been in the back of a police vehicle before. He had never been arrested, he just happened to have the opportunity to clean one back when he worked for the local carwash. The seats—or rather, one long seat—made of hard plastic caused his ass to hurt after just a few minutes of wiping the inside of the car. Kadir barely had any space to move in the back. He was only average height but even still he had to keep his knees closed and to the side to maintain comfort. He couldn’t imagine it possible for a man as big as the drunken man to fit in such a seat. Yet it was. Kadir was captivated.
By the time Kadir got back to the party everybody was packed inside. The music boomed loudly and was audible even from the Rite-Aid. A skinny kid he’d seen before in passing was the door guy. He said to Kadir, “Five.”
Kadir handed him five wrinkled ones and asked, “How long is this?”
The skinny kid said something he couldn’t make out over the music, so he asked again, to no avail and much to the annoyance of the kid. Kadir forgot about it and looked for his friends. They did—for the most part—stay in each other’s orbit, but every now and then one or two of them would break away to catch up with another group of friends.
From afar, Kadir spotted Flex in the kitchen, really the only bright place in the apartment, with some girl he recognized but didn’t know too well. Flex, in between conversation with the girl, looked up, noticed Kadir, and winked. Kadir nodded in salute and looked for Pricey. Pricey was usually in the corner by the porch opening, so Kadir made his way through the crowd to get there. He wasn’t there, but when Kadir turned around to attend to whoever tapped his shoulder, Pricey stood before him.
“What’s good, G?” Pricey asked, “You find parking?”
“Yeah, all the spots were taken so I had to park at the Rite-Aid,” Kadir said.
Pricey had stripped down to a tank top that revealed his modest amount of muscles and immodest amount of tattoos. Kadir was glad to have Pricey there with him. Nobody fucked with Pricey. No one ever really fucked with Kadir, either but that was different. Nobody fucked with Pricey out of fear, whereas with him, Kadir, there wasn’t any need to. Having Pricey by his side, kind of just served as double protection, Kadir thought.
“You know when this thing ends?” Kadir asked.
“Shit, I don’t know. But, fuck. I could go all night,” Pricey sneaked peeks over his shoulders at the girls of Baltimore.
“You bouda go smack?” Kadir asked.
“Why bruh, c’mon?” Kadir smiled and nudged Pricey, “It’s cuffin’ season.”
“These bitches can’t handle me, Moe,” Pricey grinned, “I’m too savage and sexy.”
“Yeah, yeah, aight nigga…go sit yo sexy savage ass down in your corner then. Aye, where’s Laurel at?”
Pricey shrugged in an animated manner and drunk from a red cup Kadir hadn’t noticed he had.
Kadir looked each girl in the eye trying to locate Laurel. There were definitely some he found attractive—physically, at least—and some he didn’t. But even out of the attractive bunch there was a boringness, or rather, dullness. Like robots, he thought. Robots with fancy hair. It wasn’t that they didn’t have their own interests and personalities, it’s just that they didn’t seem to have any real, or better yet, complex thoughts or meaningful goals. Then again, this was a party, and definitely not the best place to find a girl. But yet again, Laurel was there, and she was real. Laurel was more like a sister than anything, though. He found her attractive, but there was nothing past that for Kadir.