ake it or leave it, mu'fucka. It is what it is.” Malek held one hand in his pants and looked up the block to make sure the coast was clear as he interacted with the dope fiend. “You can take yo' ass over to the South Side and cop some of that bullshit dope if you want to, or be satisfied with what I just gave your ass.” Malek waited for his customer to respond, although he knew that eventually the man would see things his way, because Jamaica Joe had the best connect in the city of Flint.
The dope fiend examined the bag of heroin, holding it up high and thumbing it in an attempt to make all of the contents fall to the bottom. He could get a better picture of just how much dope he had if it was all heaped together in one pile. The fiend had been complaining about the pack's size. Whether Malek obliged his complaint or not, he knew that he had the best dope in town in the palm of his hands and he wasn't going to pass up that good high for nothing. The customer nodded with approval and then walked off after leaving Malek with fifty dollars, of course, and took the bag of dope with him.
Malek sat on the stoop as he waited for his next customer. He wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be the same fiend that had just walked off. Ever since Malek started slinging that premium, the term “repeat customer” had a new definition. Hell, some fiends would only get as far as their automobile, smoke up their dope, then hit Malek right back up again. It was crazy like that.
As Malek sat waiting, all types of thoughts crossed his mind, but not for one moment did he think about how quickly he had gone from becoming a potential NBA star athlete to a fuckin' corner boy. Standing six feet and five inches tall, Malek was built for the NBA, but when his mother and stepfather were killed in a drive-by shooting, his dream of having a basketball career died with them. They had been his strength, his rock, his reason for wanting it so bad. They had sacrificed their entire lives for him, and Malek wanted nothing more than to reward their efforts by seeing to it that, through his skills and talents, they would never need to work again a day in their lives.
Malek was in the hospital recovering from two bullet wounds he had suffered at the Berston Park Battle annual basketball game when he'd learned of his parents' fate. Bullets from a drive-by shooting had riddled his house, killing his mother, who was walking up the porch steps, heading home after spending days in the hospital by his side. They also killed his stepfather, who lay asleep on the front living room couch. It had only been hours prior to their deaths when Malek learned of the death of his opportunity to enter the NBA draft; his agent had dropped him like he had never known him. He hadn't even had the decency to tell Malek himself. He sent the message through Malek's mother, who it pained tremendously to be the bearer of bad news. The agent didn't even have the decency to come to his parents' funeral after all the times his mother had spent hours preparing meals for him while they discussed Malek's future career. Malek learned that in this world, just as soon as you no longer have that thing that person is trying to get out of you, they don't know you anymore. Unfortunately, he hadn't learned this lesson only from his agent.
When Malek was released from the hospital, he had nowhere to go. He was of adult age, but he was still in high school. How in the hell was he supposed to pay the house note that his parents had left behind? He got a little bit of change from a life insurance policy his parents had, but after he gave them a proper burial, there was hardly enough money left to pay for a night at a hotel, let alone pay a mortgage. It wasn't long before the bank foreclosed on the house and Malek ended up on the streets.
With no other family in Flint, Malek turned to the one source that always seemed to be a last option; one that doesn't discriminate . . . the streets. With a broken spirit and broken dreams, it wasn't long before Malek fell into the street life full force. Jamaica Joe, whose street credentials were much validated on the streets of Flint, took Malek under his wing and put him on the block in search of the American dream. Now that it was obvious that his basketball talents weren't going to get him in the pros, Malek was getting money the only way he knew how.
Although Malek's bullet wounds might not have been life-threatening, one just happened to bury itself in his leg. He had barely been checked into the hospital before NBA teams, and even colleges, lost interest in him. He knew he didn't have a chance in the world when even his agent abandoned him in the hospital bed. They all feared the inevitable: that his leg would never allow him to play ball like he once did before the ill-fated shooting. He now walked with a very slight limp, which he camouflaged as part of a smooth swagger.
Malek took to the streets like a duck took to water, and it turned out that he was a natural-born hustler. Anyone who knew him in high school would never have guessed it. He had always managed to keep his nose clean and stay focused. He never hung around the wrong crowd and had managed to maintain average grades without the perks some teachers gave a couple of the other ball players. His mind stayed on his ultimate goal: becoming a pro baller. But now . . . he was a baller all right.
He had only been hustling for a year, but quickly moved up in the ranks. Joe had given him his own block in the Fifth Ward, which was the most profitable block on the North Side of Flint.
Every day Malek thought about his mother and stepfather and missed them dearly. To date, the police had not found the person responsible for the fatal shootings, and that hurt him even more. Revenge and hatred toward the unknown perpetrator was buried in his bones, just waiting to be resurrected. The shooter had taken away every person he had ever loved. Almost everybody, with the exception of Halleigh, who just seemed to walk away on her own free will, left Malek for dead, it seemed.
Halleigh was about the only girl Malek had ever loved. As a matter of fact, it was the night that he had decided to keep his promise to her and stand by her side and be there for her that his entire life changed for the worse. And yet, it seemed she hadn't so much as thought twice about him since. He had put his entire life on the line and ruined it for her; someone who didn't even love him back enough to come see about him in the hospital after the shooting. At the end of the day, Malek had to admit that losing Halleigh hurt more than losing his dreams.
Malek rubbed his neck, which had his deceased mother's name tattooed on it, as he scanned the block. When he saw a silver Lexus turning the corner, he smiled and threw his hands up, knowing that it was Joe. The car pulled up and stopped in front passenger's side of Malek. The back passenger's side window rolled down. As always, Joe sat in the passenger's seat while his head henchman, Tariq, chauffeured him around.
Tariq didn't mind that part of his job at all. Everyone in the game knew that he was more than just some driver. He was Joe's right hand man; next in line when and if Joe ever decided to retire from the game. If anything, it was more of an honor than a duty.
“What's good, son?” Joe asked as he rolled down the window and looked at Malek.
Malek walked over to the car and extended his hand to show Joe love. “What up, fam?” he replied, greeting Joe with a handshake and a snap.
“Get in.” Joe threw his head in the direction of the empty seat next to him.
Malek walked around to the other side, opened the door, and slid in next to Joe. When Malek got in, Tariq gave him an envious stare through the rearview mirror.
Although he had never verbally expressed it, Tariq didn't care for Malek too much. It was safe to say that he was a little envious of how his boss had taken to the youngster, putting his trust and loyalty in this kid so quickly. The fact that after only a year Malek was running his own block was evidence that for some reason, Joe favored this young buck. Tariq had to be a corner boy for years before Joe gave him his own block. So he had envy in his heart toward Malek, who moved up in the ranks after only a few months of putting in work, not just for Joe, but in the game, period. And for Malek to have the busiest block of them all only added to Tariq's jealousy.
Joe lit his blunt while they sat in the idle car. He took a puff and then asked Malek, “How you do this week?”
“I need to re-up again,” Malek said as he spotted one of his workers and waved him over.
Trap, a heavyset hustler about the same age as Malek, scanned the block and then reached under the porch of the house he sold from and grabbed a brown paper bag. He then ran over to the car and handed it to Malek. Malek took the bag, opened it, looked inside and then turned and handed it to Joe.
Joe opened the bag to see money rolls filling it up to the top. A smile crept across his face as he nodded proudly. Through the rearview mirror, Tariq watched, boiling inside, knowing that this kid was about to receive accolades from the boss.
Joe closed the bag and set it in between him and Malek. Shaking his head, he said to Malek, “You never cease to amaze me, Malek.”
The compliment made Malek feel good as Joe spoke to him just as proudly as his stepfather would have congratulated him on winning the NBA championship.
“If you keep this up, you're going to be great in this game,” Joe added, referring to the dope game.
Joe had never seen anyone move dope like Malek moved it. From the moment Joe had first seen Malek in that county jail cell, he knew this kid had a bigger hustle in him than the petty crime he was being held for. His instincts had steered him right, because the way Malek had been putting in work lately, Joe knew that without a doubt, just like himself, Malek was born to hustle.
Once again, just like it had with Tariq, Joe's intuition that he could benefit greatly if Malek's services paid off; and the service went beyond the initial one of Malek just winning a basketball game for him.
It was at Berston Park, where Joe, with fifty grand at stake, convinced Malek to play on his North Side team in the basketball game when the youngin's skills first paid off for Joe. Against Malek's agent's wishes, Malek agreed to play on Joe's team, not because he wanted to, but because he felt obligated. After all, Joe was the one who'd hired that infamous Flint “street attorney” who got Malek out of jail for robbery. It was a robbery he wouldn't have even thought to attempt in his wildest dreams had it not have been for Halleigh.
Thanks to Malek's basketball skills, Joe's team won the game indeed, but that only pissed off his lifelong enemy, Sweets, who ran the South Side team, and who lost his fifty Gs to Joe, plus bragging rights he had victoriously retained for the past four games. Not to mention his pride. In retaliation, an all-out North Side/South Side war broke out after the game. Malek, once again, came to Joe's rescue, taking two bullets that were intended for Joe.
Malek remained silent as he took in Joe's compliments. He glanced up at Tariq, who was mugging him through the mirror.
What's that niggas problem?
Malek thought as he returned a mean stare for a brief moment. Malek felt an uneasiness around Tariq. Not that he was a threat or anything ; Malek just sensed that Tariq was light-weight offended by his presence. Malek knew that because he was so young, the older cats who had been in the game would be intimidated by a young hustler getting his grind on. But that never stopped Malek from doing what he had to do. What Malek did sometimes worry about was another hatin'-ass nigga trying to stop him.
I'm going to have to keep an eye on that nigga Tariq, Malek surmised. He might just be a problem.
Joe interrupted Malek's thoughts. “You ran through a whole brick in two days?” Joe asked him, not believing the obvious.
“Yeah. That shit is like clockwork âround here. I be hittin' niggas off proper. I don't be cutting my shit heavy.” Malek shared with Joe his technique that kept the fiends coming back. “I might not make as much on the flip, but I run through the dope faster, re-upping more. So, in the long run, I make more money.”
“If more mu'fuckas thought like you, then everybody could eat off this game.” Joe looked to his head henchman. “Ain't that right, Tariq? Not even your ass ever came up with that type of logic.” He turned his attention back to Malek, leaving Tariq's ego wounded. “Niggas get greedy and try to stretch they dope so much that it doesn't even get their customers high anymore.” Joe inhaled the smoke into his lungs. “I'll have someone drop off a brick in an hour.”
“No doubt,” Malek said. He then immediately turned the conversation to some more important business. “Have you found out anything about the shooting?” he asked Joe for the millionth time. Joe had promised Malek that he would look into the random drive-by shooting that took his mother's and stepfather's lives a year earlier. Joe told Malek that niggas in the street talked; they were worse than broads sometimes. He assured him that he would have his soldiers keep their ears to the street and he would find out just exactly who was behind it. And when they did, payback would be a mutha.
Joe's reassurance wasn't enough for Malek. Time was of the essence. The spirit of revenge was embedded deep inside Malek's bones. Every day that went by was another day that the culprit got to breathe. And Malek wasn't having that. So every time he got a chance, he asked Joe that very same question. He was worse than Celie in
The Color Purple
, asking Mister every day if any mail had come for her.