The realities of a life of crime is revealed to someone
WHAT IT LOOK LIKE
Ruth Ann screamed. She looked at Walter, a gaping hole hollowing out his cheek exposing the wreck that was the right side of his face. She couldn’t turn away as he writhed and twisted in pain, his hands reaching up to his face reflexively as if to hold in its contents. The action was pointless, seeing as how what he sought to hold in place now painted half of the windshield and the passenger’s side of the front seat, bits of bone and teeth speckling the gore. A few seconds later Walter’s body started to convulse, making Ruth Ann howl even louder at the realization this was the same person she’d just been laughing with only moments before an explosion of light and heat set the night ablaze right before her very eyes, filling the vehicle with the sound of thunder followed by smoke and an acrid smell that burnt the inside of her nostrils making her eyes water.
She felt the car lurch, the back door nearest her swinging open. The next thing she knew she was being wrenched from the vehicle, her stomach going all queasy as she dropped from the seat to the concrete, her right buttocks and side hitting the concrete hard. She felt herself being dragged, the new dress sliding across the pavement making a soft scraping sound beneath her. It wasn’t until she was slapped that she realized her assailant was speaking to her.
“Where he at?!” the face before her hissed through yellowed teeth.
She stared up dumbly, earning herself another slap, this one making her teeth rattle.
“Don’t make me ask you again you lil’ high yella bitch! Where that nigga Red at?”
“I don’t know!” she blurted at the sight of the hand rising to strike her again. The man jerked her arm roughly.
“What was y’all doing here then, huh?” He turned, his eyes darting about them wildly. “That nigga ‘round here somewhere ain’t he?” He yanked her halfway up from the ground, “Ain’t he?!”
“I don’t know!” she whimpered, ducking her head, trying to shield her face. “I don’t know! He just said to wait!”
The man released her wrist, backhanding her down to the ground. “Lyin’ yella bitch!” he hissed. “I know yo’ lil’ ass lyin’!”
“I don’t know where he at!” Ruth Ann repeated, curling up into a ball. “I swear to God, I don’t know!”
“Girl,” the man said, reaching down to snatch her up again. “Get’cho ass u…”
That was as far as he got before he collapsed on top of Ruth Ann, his face smacking into the pavement flush. She cracked her eyes open, watching as Red bent down, smashing something into the back of the man’s head, over and over again, his hand rising and falling quickly. “Here I go muthafucka!” He shouted. “Here I go!”
Ruth Ann grimaced at the sickening sound Red’s weapon made as it smacked against the bloody pulp that was the back of the man’s head. The sound stopped abruptly and saw Red straighten, sliding the weapon into his pocket before wiping his bloody hand clean with a handkerchief. He cast the cloth aside, smoothing his conked hair back off his forehead before looking down at her as if he were noticing her for the first time.
“Girl,” he said, “I ain’t buy you that dress for yo’ ass to just be rollin’ round on the ground in it.” He stepped over the body, peering through the front passenger door. “Damn, Walter,” he said. “I told yo’ ass to stay sharp.” He turned back to the man on the ground, kneeling and quickly rifling through his pockets, relieving them of their contents before rising and opening the passenger, dragging Walter’s lifeless form out to lie next to the other. “Bring yo’ ass girl,” he said, walking to the driver’s side door and sliding in.
As the vehicle roared to life, Ruth Ann rose to her feet sliding back into the back seat and closing the door behind her. Red drove them for a few blocks before dipping into a side street. He jumped out, grabbing rags from the trunk, quickly giving the front seat and dashboard a quick wipe down. Ruth Ann watched wordlessly. When was done, he chucked the rags out the passenger window, and they continued on their way, staying to the back alleys and side streets. After a few minutes Red guided them onto Auburn Avenue. Ruth Ann knew where they were when she saw the Herndon building come and go as they drove by in silence.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Where are we going?” she repeated.
“Oh,” Red glanced at her in the rearview, “I’on’t’ know,” he said. “What’chu feelin’ in the mood for? I hear they got Charles Brown playin’ over at the Peacock. Or, if you’ve a mind to, we can hit up Ray Lee’s.” He shook his head. “That damn Walter woulda wanted to go to The Domino Lounge over at the Imperial Hotel or the Gypsy Room. Down there at the Clermont? Shit, I ain’t spendin’ money to watch no heffas shake they ass.” He laughed, half turning in his seat again to look at her. “‘Specially not when I got a fine looking woman wit’ me. Now, ain’t that right?’
Ruth Ann couldn’t believe her ears. “You still wanna go out?” she asked. “After all of that?”
“All of what?” Red said. “You talmbout Walter and that fool? Shit girl, that kinda thing just happen. What’chu ‘spect? Any time a nigga see another nigga got sumthin’ he wanna take it,” he declared. “That’s just how it is.’
“But what?” he said, interrupting her. “You sayin’ you don’t wanna go? Why the hell you think I bought you that dress?”
“But Walter,” she said. “What about Walter?”
“What about him?,” Red snorted. “Shit, he ain’t comin’.”
Ruth Ann couldn’t hide her incredulity at his dismissiveness, “How can you say something like that? Wasn’t Walter your friend?”
Red shrugged, “As much as he could be,” he said.
“What does that mean?” she asked.
“What’chu think it mean?” Red asked, pulling into a parking lot, screeching to a stop. He left the engine idling, turning in his seat to look at her. “Look’a here,” he said. “Walter was alright, and it ain’t like I’m glad he dead or nuthin’ like that but that nigga gone, and you and me sittin’ here cryin’ ‘bout it ain’t gon bring his black ass back.”
Ruth Ann shook her head. “So if that had been you…”
“I’d expect him to go on ‘bout his bidness and do what he gotta do. Maybe have hisself a drank and get some pussy for the both of us.” When he saw the look of disgust on her face, he shook his head disapprovingly. “You think he ain’t know what could happen ridin’ wit’ me? Huh? You sittin’ here feelin’ sorry for him ‘cause he got capped? Girl, you know how many fools Walter put on they back? Huh? And I ain’t just talkin’ ‘bout men,” he added. “What? He make you laugh or sumthin’? You think he like you?” He scoffed. “That man was just tryin’ to get in yo’ pants.”
“Still,” she said.
“Bitch,” Red cut in, all semblance of civility gone. “You knows who I is. You knows what I do. Don’t sit there now tryin’ to act brand new.” He turned, smacking the steering wheel hard. “You think all it was gon’ be was pretty dresses and fancy restaurants?” He shook his head, “Yo’ ass can’t be that stupid.”
“I just...,” Ruth Ann stammered. “I just didn’t know it’d be like this.”
Red looked out the window without saying anything for a while, his fingers tapping the steering column lightly. “Take off that dress.”
Ruth Ann wasn’t sure she’d heard him right. “What?”
“You heard me,” he said. “Take off that damn dress and get out the car.”
“Girl, don’t make me have to come back there and take it off your ass myself.”
For the slightest of moments, Ruth Ann considered protesting but thought better of it and just did as she was told. Obediently, she handed the dress to him over the seat before opening the door and stepping from the vehicle. Red inspected the garment, satisfied that other than a little dirt, it appeared to be none the worse for wear. Ruth Ann stood by the car in silence, eyes brimming with tears from the shame of it, hugging herself tightly. Red looked at her with baleful, slitted eyes his right hand fingering the grip of the pistol he had tucked in his belt.
“Everybody want what it look like,” he said, “but don’t nobody want what it be like.” He gave her a final once over as he shifted the car into gear, screeching away to leave her standing there wearing nothing but her shift.