December 12th, 1981
I am dying in a casket. According to my mother, I would one day die in an open casket. I banged my fist up against the door. I screamed and heard only my voice. I am a dead man. A flash point. I slammed my head against the casket. “Helllllppp!” Early Sunday morning. I can barely breathe. I am drunk. I have committed manslaughter against one of the worst Colombians in the world. I wish for Officer John Husker. “Shit!” I wish he could dig me out of this six-foot hole. Darkness. My breath scares me. I am a little boy again, afraid of the monster in the closet. I wait in line to die as I confess the chronicles of a dead man.
I remember my life. Tears take steps down my cheeks. Hot. I can flee no more. I am here drunk. Buried. Heated and battered. I feel the blood run down my nose and ear. I wipe the blood. “Helllllp!” Possessed, calm down man. Shit! “I am Black Jesus! I am Black Jesus!” I stop, slow down, fall asleep in the darkness. I dream. I dream of my reward for being a man, for dying like a man and my final hours.
Awake again, with more tears in my eyes; I wipe my face, punch the door that doesn’t budge. My dying is a tribal sovereign nation. Street law. I was careful, C.I.A. snitch, a rat. I was careful, and I always covered my tracks, in the snows of Haverford Connecticut. My life is a great spin. I cry, and I laugh like a girl. I pray and think of the time that put me in this death plot. I was legal, I worked my time off with Detective Husker. I worked my ass off to keep my cover. I stayed strong, excluded my wife, children, who I hadn’t seen in years. I was black, a spot, on this native land, and now I am dying and think of the times when I raced my bicycle down the streets. My father taught me, as my mama watched me race Eddie Yella down the streets until he fell off. Ugh! Uggghh! I cough the dirt coming up in my hot lungs. I slap my hand over my nose. Breathe slow-slow. No shadows. No voices. No sounds of air tickling the trees. No scuffed footprints. Six feet deep. Six feet under is all I think, afraid. Lost, until I see the light, brilliant yellow light of my life.
November 2nd, 1977…
“Hi! I am Tevin Dunbar,” I shook his hand.
“Call me Mike.” Mike looked him in his eyes. He looked wise, smart, a young man who knew his way around the streets. Cleft chin, ladies’ man. “Follow me.”
I saw brick walls, heard music down a corridor under the Bears Den Bar. I was sent by some Irish guys on my street for this job to clean up the bathrooms before, during and after the poker games. Nothing but brick walls passed a few men going by. No head nods. Ghosts. We were all dangerous ghosts underground.
Mike got to a door, knocked one-two-three. The door cracked open; a guy with a ten inch cut down his face peeked between the chains. “I got your man.”
He opened it.
I walked in, saw the mop and bucket. A dead man lay on the floor with a bullet in the middle of his head, eyes wide open.
“Clean this shit up,” he stood over him, kicked him to make sure he was dead. He threw an Ace of Spades on this chest. “What’s your name, boy?”
“Tevin, sir,” I rubbed my chin, “but they call me Black Jesus.”
He stuck one hand in his pocket, “well, Black Jesus, here is your first job.”
“Grab him by his arms,” Mike said.
I lifted his arms, dragged him backward as Mike held his legs. The dead man was heavy. It felt like I tore my rib cage some as I dragged the weight of the dead man in the alley. Moon white stared down at me. I wasn’t afraid in the cold, as we swung his ass in the trunk of the black Cadillac. Mike slapped his hands and grinned at no one. The man was the color of death, yellow, pale. Eyes closed now. He no longer looked at his soul drift from a place in hell. The card was stuck to the blood circled in the middle of his clean white shirt. The card was the sign, his death warrant. I nodded to Mike. It was silent thanks. Mike slapped the top of the car, and another man drove away in the cold frost of the white moon. How many times had I seen a dead body? Many, plenty. It was my life. Streets were bright with death for me. It was all I knew. Nothing more, but a body and a cup of coffee to wake up to in the middle of the night. Early morning moon. Bright. White. Cold death was my story, my life. I grew up on the streets. Ain’t had much, but death and a cold sandwich. In and out of prison, in and out of shit all my life. Shot five times, survived by the grace of the angels on high. I followed Mike back into the basement. He kicked a mop and bucket at me, clean up the blood. Yeah, I got it. “No problem.”
What is love? Hell, I didn’t know. I couldn’t feel anymore as I got on my knees and scrubbed the blood. I cherished the day I would die. It was my life. My life.
I grew up in the library. It was my sanctuary from the street. It was my church. My mama, when she wasn’t drunk, tried to make me go to church. But I ran. I ran so fast from the church, from God, and hid behind the library building. Red bricks. It was a cathedral to me. I felt safe at the desk of the library. Silence, just Black Jesus, and a skinny face white woman. She stared, didn’t smile. No smiles from white folks. No smiles for Black Jesus, but I didn’t mind. No smiles from white folks were okay with me because I was there to get away from Jesus. Hell! I was already Jesus. I didn’t need no church. I didn’t need no God. I just needed to read. Read as much as I could until I got tired of reading, and went home in the darkness. My mama caught me sneaking in the back door. She spanked me. “Boy! Why didn’t you go to church with me and your grandma?”
“Mama! I am scared of Jesus! He makes me so scared mama!” I stuck my arms up to keep the leather belt from hitting me in the face. Butt naked, as the whip of Jesus came down on my ass. I went to church after that, didn’t miss any more days, and I got my library reading in too. After school skipped the last period with my buddies. We smoked dope in the alley by the school. Boy, I guess you could call them the good days. No taxes. No police. No deaths and no funerals, just a bunch of drunks around the streets. I didn’t get into any shit until I got about fifteen. I was fighting this big mother-fucker, Jerome Smalls. Kicked him in his nuts, and he dropped like a fucking rock. It was a miracle because I was way smaller than him. After that, they started calling me Black Jesus.
The name only got me three years in juvey. Car thefts. Thank God, they didn’t find the .22 on me. But I learned how to box in juvey. Had no choice, because a whole lot of gang rapings were going around. Fuck the little guy. Well, I broke a couple of bottles in some dudes' necks, that made them think twice about want to stick a dick in my mouth. Naw! It was cool. I just read a lot of Superman comic books, then I read some Shakespeare, then I read some Poe, then I read some Mark Twain, then I read some Stephen Crane, then I read some Richard Wright, and then I read some James Baldwin, and finished it off with some shit from some Russian cats. I got out at eighteen, went back to school, got kicked out. I went in the Marines, got kicked out. I went to work for a trucking company, got fired. I went to work as a janitor, got fired. I went to work on a construction site, got caught for theft, and each time I got up to fight for my ass some more. Hustled. Sold women's’ dresses out the back of my black Impala. I used to cruise the streets from Jackson to Liberty in Haverford. Ghetto heavens I called them, plenty of women with babies and no daddies. I fucked every woman who wanted to buy a dress on credit, even fucked her mama too. It was a part of being Black Jesus. I walked on water with a .45. I walked on water with a sweet left jab and awesome right hook. I was a miracle worker, until one day this white ass cop stopped me and asked me to pop open my trunk.
“Keep,” he kept his gun on me, “your hands in sight!”
“Now! Get out the car, realllll slow Mister!” the cop came up behind him, “hands behind your back!” He shoved my face on the hood, cuffed me, “now, what the fuck you doing around here boy?” He opened my wallet, “Your license says… Tevin Garrett.”
“Yessir.” I felt the thick paws of the cop handled me like a piece of newspaper. No sweat. I have been hassled before. Just give the pig a little of my dough and he's on his way. I was on a side street. No dogs barked. No house lights went on. It was cool. “I got money, in my pocket Officer. You can have it.”
“Huh!” he flashed the light in my eyes, “I know you.”
“You Black Jesus.”
“I guess you do know me.”
“You know me?” the Officer asked.
I winced at the light on his name tag, “Husker.”
“Officer, John Husker.” He grabbed me by my neck. “I don’t want your money.”
“Well lock me up then… for being black.”
“Naw!” he uncuffed me, “you owe me.”
I rubbed my wrists, “Why, I owe you?”
“Because,” the cop smirked, “I’m the devil, and I know who you work for.”
“And,” I shook my head, “I am Black Jesus.”
“Get your ass in your car,” he got in my face, “Black Jesus, you work for me now.”
“You with the Celtic Gang,” he rubbed his chin, “and I need info.”
“No,” he put his gun to my head, “fuck you. You want,” I moved my head from his gun nozzle, “dat gold shield.”
“And you going to help me, and I am going to help you,” Officer Husker patted me on my leather coat shoulder.
“What about the Celtic Boys?”
“I’m sure you smart enough to do your job,” he said, “can you handle that, Black Jesus?”
“Sure,” I scratched my chin, “sure.”
“You just leave the names in this mailbox over on Sixth and L Street every Friday night,” he passed me a ripped piece of paper with numbers on it. “I want names, dates, times, and men who telling you to move the bodies from one car to the next.”
“What’s in it for me?”
“Two-fifty a week and no jail time.”
“Cool!” I drove off from the cop in the night. He was a vampire like the rest of the cops, but I saw in his eyes concern about what was happening on the streets. He was in it for justice. This made this cop most dangerous, nothing to lose but his life. And I wasn’t in this to lose my head, to the cops or the Irish. The Mexicans, Asians, and Colombians were moving into Haverford on fake passports from all parts of the country. I was running scared, trying to keep up with the times. A red light stopped me. I turned the radio up and listened to some Derek Gordon. He was playing his heart out. I felt good. If I played my cards straight, I would have money coming and going. But if I played them wrong, I was dead. I had no choice, just do your job, something my daddy always told me. Never stand over a man digging a hole; it could be your grave? Thanks a lot Pops. Thanks a hell of a lot. He would say, “Boy, you be lucky if you reached fifty.” Never knew what he meant, but now I got the feeling. Now I could understand Pops. He was an asshole, but he had common sense. I tapped my finger, drove my Impala in the alley and locked the car. I saw Geraldine standing in the alley smoking a cigarette. I knew she wanted money.
I kept walking, wasn’t gonna give her my time.
“Tevin! Tevin! Don’t ignore me,” she walked behind him, “you don’t want any of this good down-to-earth pussy?”
“Not tonight Jeri,” I leaned against my front door to the third-floor walkup, “no money.”
“Awww! Mutherfucker, you always got money,” she got in my face, “I bought three dresses off you last week.”
“Money was gone.”
“Get more mother-fucker,” she kissed him on the chin, “a girl got to make money out here.” She lit another cigarette, “You know one of my babies yours. When are you going to pay for her?”
“You a whore,” I rubbed my chin, “you got no proof.” I stared in her pretty, glassy eyes, gray eyes that wanted me to make love to her. I was the only one she loved out here on the streets. She took care of me, and I gave her money for her four kids when I had it. “Later.”
The sun was coming up. I nodded, unlocked the door. I turned away from her beautiful eyes that made men take down their pants. She had plenty of business. Five, eleven. Half white, half Native American from the Wacataw tribe of Connecticut. She was a Betty Boop kind of gal. Sweet, smart, and knew how to make five hundred a night behind the bars on Second Avenue. They called her Buffalo Woman.
“You ain’t no better than me!”
“Go home,” I slammed the door, “to your kids!”
“Fuck you!” she swung around, shook her rainbow butt down the streets to a group of other women in high heels. Cars honked, pulled over.
But in the alley a block from his garbage, Officer Husker watched Black Jesus go in his apartment. He lit a cigarette. He was a rookie himself, but he was born around here, an Irish boy, half Russian, and Dutch Catholic. He loved the night. Batman was his favorite comic book reading when he was a boy. Never thought he’d be a cop. He never guessed it. He was supposed to be a lawyer. Big disappointment to his father, but he had to be happy, and the streets were his treats. He wanted to get rid of the monsters. He didn’t have a partner. The streets were his eyes and ears. People were his pain reliever. This Tevin guy, he remembered him at Haverford High School. Mr. Dunbar was a good wide receiver, but he quit. He puffed on his cigarette. Heard the guy’s mother died. He knew he was a good guy, just lost. He rolled with the wrong crowd. Drugs were coming in the city, part of a Republican war game. Hell. He just had to lock up more black men, like that was going to solve the problems in the country. Tevin was rough. He was smart, fast and just the right man to help him take out the Celtic gang. He didn’t want to get Tevin killed, but it was part of street cleaning. He listened to the radio. PATROL SIX-THREE-ONE we got a TWO-THIRTEEN… at FOUR THREE FOUR WAKATA PLACE!” He turned on his headlights, sirens and sped to the burglary.
No window, gray room. My father was a Dunbar, my mother a Garrett. I used both names to save my ass. I slept on a cart. I had no kitchen, but a bathroom. The room cost twenty-five dollars a week. The Dunbar Hotel. My grandfather owned it, now I was a resident. But in the will, the hotel went to my great Aunt Jewel. She was a good woman, but she was almost in her seventies with a bad heart. She looked after me; I cared about her. She expected the best from me. She prayed for me every day at the Saint Vincent DePaul Church. I had a photo of a black Jesus Christ over my bed. I had a .45 under my pillow, lit a candle, gazed into the flames of the candle; said my prayers…
“My Father, my Lord, look at my mother and protect me from the evils of this world. Thank you, Jesus.” I had a bottle of Old Turkey by my bed. Sipped, slipped my pants and shirt off, yawned. Knock on the door. “Shit!” I got my gun. “Coming!” Opened up, “Aunt Jewel! What are you doing up so late tonight?”
She handed me a plate, “Did you eat?”
I smelled the fried catfish, took the plate, “no mam.”
“Yes, mam,” she was crooked but strong.
“And,” she started to leave, “put that goddamn gun away.”
“Yes, mam,” I sniffed under the napkin, “thank you.”
“See you in the morning boy.”
I watched her walk down the faded flower, rose wallpaper hall. Wooden banisters, she held on tight. I wanted to help her down the steps, but she would only cuss me out. I smiled, closed the door. I sat and ate the fried catfish and fried potatoes. I was hungry. I was scared. I was alone, but she had my back when it was time for me to eat. She cared. I loved her, licked my fingers, put the plate up on the table in the middle of the floor. I was sleepy. On the rooftop, I heard the rain. I heard a hard rain. Winters in Connecticut were awful. I stuck the gun under my pillow, got under my blanket and stared in the candle flame, as I thought of my heartache. No mother. No father. No love in my life, just a good old aunt who still had a bit of caring sleeping in her soul. I would protect her, warm under the thick covers on the cot, as I went to sleep and dreamed of dreams I wouldn’t remember the next morning. I appreciate angels keeping my bad dreams away.