Copyright 2013 Daryl Middlebrook
Published by Daryl Middlebrook at Shakespir
Shakespir Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Table of Contents
I would like to thank those who have believed in me, and inspired me even when I didn’t believe in myself. To my mother, Mildred Middlebrook, who instilled in me a sense of honor which helped me survive the streets of Detroit; Mama, I miss you, and thank you for being the “mean Mom” and keeping us kids from knowing the inside of a prison before we were twenty-one. To my daughter Desiree Middlebrook, who I love with all my heart and soul, thank you for making me laugh when I wanted to cry. Much love to Langston Pope and Nicole Pope, you’re more like my best friends then my step-kids, God bless you for always seeing me in a positive light. To my wife Dorothy Middlebrook, you are my soul mate, friend, buddy, lover and sister in Christ. I didn’t know it then, but God truly blessed me the day we first talked at the copy machine more than thirty years ago. I love you more than life itself. And finally to my Lord Jesus Christ who brought me back from the brink of destruction. You are my hiding place and my strong tower. Thank you for life, and that more abundantly.
In this nation of immigrants called the United States of America, there are only two groups of people who did not arrive here seeking the American dream. The first of course are the Native-Americans, who were erroneously christened “Indians” by a certain Italian explorer. The indigenous, original inhabitants of this land who were slaughtered and sweep into the hills by colonial fever. The second group was the African. Brought to this country in chains, robbed of their culture, religion, history and language, these men and women labored in hard slavery for nearly 250 years.
Unlike the Native Americans, who for centuries were called Indians, we have gone thru a plethora of names since arriving in the “New World.” We have been called Negro, Colored, Black, Afro-American and African American. This identity crisis has not been due to schizophrenia, but a sincere and determined effort to understand who we are, where we came from, and where we are going as a people. We have survived being abandoned by the government after the Civil War and left at the sadistic mercy of our former masters. We have survived Jim Crowe laws, which made us second-class citizens. We’ve survived lynching, rape, second-rate education and housing and the most hateful racism in the history of mankind. We did so by summoning up the spirituality of our African ancestors.
In the suffocating heat of the cotton fields, with our backs scarred by the master’s whip, we still found a way to raise our hands to God. In song we not only survived, we would change the texture of American life. Our songs of slavery became known as Negro Spirituals, which would birth first the Blues, and than Jazz, the only musical art form to originate in this country. And our influence wouldn’t stop there; all Americans would soon adopt our “ghetto” style of walking, talking, singing and swinging. Today, symbols of African American culture can be seen in the hip-hop clothes and rap music worn and listened to by white kids. On the sports floors and fields, African Americans dominate. Kids of all races want to “Be Like Mike, and Tiger, and Serena. Many have exchanged the traditional handshake with a fist bump or high five. We are the sauce that gives the meat of this country its flavor or flava’.
In Western Africa, it was the job of the Griot (pronounced gre-o) to tell the tales of the people, whether they be kings or commoners. Many Griots have emerged in this new land such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, Robert (Iceberg Slim) Beck, Toni Morrison and Jabari Asim. It is Griots such as they that have made sure our voices have been articulated and that our humanity overshadows any preconceived stereotypes.
The Urban Griot is a compilation of short stories about such black people in America. Mind you, these are not stories about race riots, race relations or even relay races. No, the Urban Griot tells the tales of people, American people who happen to be black, who face situations that are not uncommon to people of any race. Yet their stories are told here because unlike mainstream American, Black people and our problems are often reduced to the state of caricature. Our heroes in this book deal with prison, drugs and hustling, but it doesn’t define them. It is the lot given them in life. Not always honorable, not always right, yet these people seek what all of us seek, to strive, thrive and stay alive.
Is the power of love great enough to overcome the “Nature of the Beast?”
“Don’t you square up on me, you hear. “
His words rang in my head. His voice was the equivalent of sandpaper sliding against a stairwell post, like he just smoked two packs of Carlton’s. It was my birthday. He always came on my birthday and Christmas; he was consistent like that. I had on my “Hammer” pants, which in 1992, was the freshest rags ever. Add to that my Bobby Brown Gumby hairstyle, and you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t “dope times two.”
Car after car drove by our house, but not one gold Cadillac Brougham with the vinyl roof trim. Still, I wasn’t worried, he was coming; he didn’t lie, in fact, he was brutally honest. I once asked him if I could call him Dad. He looked at me like I had keyed his car, then shot off a series of expletives questioning my six-year-old manhood. Dollar was the only way I would ever address him.
Grandma had a love/hate relationship with Dollar. The youngest of her seven children, Dollar loved the grittiness and danger of the streets. It made him hard and cold. For him, life consisted of the strong and the soft, and he had no use for the soft.
I wanted to be like Dollar, rough edges and all. But when he looked at me, he saw soft. I guess I took after my mother, whom I’ve never seen. Dollar never talked much about her, who she was, how she died. If I asked him, I’d get a tirade filled with multiple B-words.
Suddenly it turned onto our street, the gold Cadillac. I Quickly composed myself. “Don’t get excited, Dollar hates that. It’s why he thinks your soft.”
When I was little, I’d cry when he wouldn’t allow me to jump up in his arms because of some expensive suit he was wearing. Once I scuffed his shoes and he called me everything but a child of God, I didn’t realize there were so many curse words in the English language.
If he felt he had hurt my feelings, his favorite thing, to say to me, was “Don’t you square up on me.”
Well, today, I was fourteen, almost a man. I’d show him I was no square. The Caddy pulled into the driveway. As he emerged from the car, he was a sight to behold. Draped in the funkiest powder blue Italian wool suit I had ever seen, his jet-black hair had more waves than the Pacific Ocean. His feet were encased in expensive Italian shoes; several diamond rings adorned his fingers. A gold-tipped ebony cane topped off the ensemble. Something about Dollar always attracted women like bees to honey, like my neighbor Delisa,
“Hi little man.” She said, waving to me.
Funny, she never spoke to me before, but here she was, in Daisy Dukes smiling at me like we were best friends. Dollar never looked her way.
He semi-smiled at me; I kept my distance, which actually caught him off guard. Finally, I did my best pimp walk over to him, no hug; real men like Dollar don’t hug. Instead, I stuck out my fist; he bumped it, smiled, punched my chest, hard enough that I felt it, but not enough to cause pain. It was his way of letting me know that my gesture was cool.
“So, Big Momma treatin’ you right?” He asked.
“Yeah.” I replied.
After an uncomfortable silence, he reached into his pocket pulled out two Benjamins and a Grant, and tucked them into my shirt pocket.
“My nigga.” He said (his term of endearment for me), “I’m gonna’ go handle mine, you be cool and I’ll see you in a little minute.”
Dollar’s minutes were more like months, so that meant I probably wouldn’t see him again until Christmas (my birthday was in April.)
He slid back in the Caddy, didn’t speak to Grandma or anybody else in the family, and drove off. It would be the last time I would ever see him alive. Despite being a grown man of fourteen, I ran into the house and cried like a baby.
“A scorpion is a scorpion and a jackal is a jackal baby,” Grandma said trying to comfort me. “Some creatures just can’t change they nature.”
Despite the way he was, I’d always believed that deep down, he loved me, a belief that faded when the visits ended. How could he just drop out of my life if he really cared? Grandma was right, he was no good, and I hated him.
I was twenty-six years old when I received a call from the Long Beach police department. They’d found a rusted 1989 Cadillac Brougham at the bottom of the pier. A decomposed body was in the trunk. Driver’s license identified him as Ennis Cantrell, my father.
I drove to the morgue his body was unrecognizable. The coroner declared that he had been dead for more than ten years, the cause of death, a bullet right between his eyes.
I stared numbly at his bloated carcass, trying to drum up some reaction inside. Part of me was pleased he hadn’t just forgotten me; while the other half still hated him. He was a selfish, misogynistic bastard who wasn’t man enough to take on the responsibility of raising his son. Therapy and a failed marriage led me to that conclusion. Still, it saddens me that Dollar died alone that shouldn’t happen to anyone.
As I watched the junkyard machine crush Dollar’s rusted Caddy into a mass of metal, I tried to analyze his life; who was he? How did he lose his humanity? Did he think of me before the bullet penetrated his brain, or were his thoughts only of himself? I guess it might be true what that song says that it’s hard out here being a pimp. But as I hold my son’s hand, and look into his loving eyes, it’s ten times harder, and a hundred times more fulfilling being a good dad.
Beating Satan at his own game proved costly to Shadow Sims, is he desperate enough to make another deal with the Devil?
It was strange seeing Shadow Sims sporting anything other than his signature black tux, but there he was, the next “Ellington,” draped in nothing more than a blue denim shirt and jeans. It was also surreal for the man Miles nicknamed “Mr. Ultra Cool,” to be pacing nervously and sweating like a marathon runner. Blame it on three months of sobriety, Shadow’s longest dry spell in a decade. Instinctively he reached for the bottle of scotch, which had always been his companion before a gig, only to find a pitcher of ice water in its stead.
His breathing was labored, his legs felt rubbery. “You don’t need no drink Shadow,” he said to his trembling brown fingers. “All you need are these ten sweethearts here to do what they always do.”
Shadow slumped in the rickety old chair. His eyelids felt heavy, and he closed them. However, his daydreams brought no comfort; they were always about Sheila, how mesmerizingly beautiful she looked as they danced at the Tiki Club, her butterscotch skin glowed under the soft lights. And then came the darkness; the altercations, Sheila crashing to the floor, blood draining from her nose, her hazel eyes glaring up at him filled with fear and hatred. Shadow forced his eyes open. He moved away from the mirror, unable to look at his reflection.
Suddenly, the lights flickered then the room went pitch black. “Yeah Shadow,” a familiar voice cut through the darkness, “you showed that bitch who was boss.”
The lights fluttered back on again. Shadow turns to find Blue, a lean, dark figure standing in a hazy cloud of smoke. Dapper in his customary black suit and fedora, the brim dipped just enough to conceal his eyes. Blue extended his hand for some dap, Shadow left him hanging.
“Our business deal is complete Blue.” Shadow declared. “You promised to take me straight to the top, but you failed to school me on what fame would really cost. I lucked up and found a loophole out of the deal, so you broke me like a cowboy bust a bronco. I say we’re even.”
A sly smile spread across Blue’s face. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a silver flask. “You seem tense old man, scotch still your drink?”
Shadow lustfully eyed the flask as Blue took a swig. “Why are you here Blue? The money’s gone, I lost Sheila, no more Palladium, no more Ed Sullivan Show, all I got is this place here. Crawl back into your hole and let me be.”
Blue poured the scotch into a cup. “Hey, I’m willing to let bygones be bygones baby. So you crashed, hell Sinatra crashed. That idiot even tried to kill himself; I could’ve cash in right then.”
Shadow’s eye twitched nervously; the powerful aroma of scotch was nearly as intoxicating as the taste.
“But I’m an old softie; I redid his contract, put him back on top for another twenty years. I can do the same thing for you too.”
Blue grabbed a photo of Shadow shaking hands with President John Kennedy that was taped to the mirror. He flipped it over, “October 29, 1963,” was written on the back.
“You never know when your number’s gonna’ be punched.” Blue set the flask on top of the picture. “Very few get a second chance.”
Droplets of sweat dripped from Shadow’s brow, the back of his throat was parched, anticipating the sweet, musky flavor. Suddenly he glanced up at Blue’s reflection in the mirror. He gasped as he caught a glimpse of Blue’s true demonic visage; his skin, scaly, reptilian, his eyes burned from the thousands of souls he owned. Shadow whirled around, only to see Blue smiling in his suave human form.
Alarmed, Shadow turned back to the mirror. He studied his own face, he realized how much older he looked than his thirty-three years, a legacy courtesy of his romance with the bottle. His time in this wasteland had also given him time to reevaluate his life, the selfishness, and narcissism, which led him to this lonely existence.
Blue quickly wearied of Shadow’s internal moral contemplations. “Damn them all Shadow. It’s all about you baby. Sheila, all of them; they left you, dropped a dime on you.”
Blue’s words rang loudly in Shadow’s ears. He reached for the flask; his trembling fingers nearly dropped it. He lifted the container to his lips, closed his eyes then stood to his feet, facing Blue.
He abruptly snatched the cigarette from Blue’s grinning mouth and dropped it in the flask. “Sorry, I don’t drink anymore.”
Suddenly a gruff voice from outside the door barked, “Sims, you’re on in one minute.”
Shadow dropped the flask on the floor and turned towards the door. A furious Blue burst into white hellish flame, which melted away his human facade.
“I made you Shadow! You’re nothing without me. It’ll only be a matter of time before I got you lock, stock and barrel.”
Shadow left the makeshift dressing room, trekking down the dark corridor, past a cadre of uniformed armed guards. Just ahead, he spots the tall, balding figure of Mike Brown, his manager.
“Thanks for bringing the boys Mike.” He said as they embraced.
Mike smiled, “That’s what managers do.”
“How’s Sheila?” Shadow guiltily asked
Mike hesitated momentarily then nodded, “Okay.”
Mike then turned and walked on stage. “Gentlemen, a living legend, Shadow Sims!” Enthusiastic applause followed.
After a quick prayer, Shadow took the stage. He waved, and bowed to the standing, applauding all-male crowd, like him, they were all dressed in blue shirts and jeans. Each member of his band received a bear hug from Shadow. Their white tuxes clashed with his prison garb.
Finally, the Master took his seat at the ivory baby grand. He placed his trembling fingers on the keys. His face still dripped with sweat. He looked offstage and saw Blue in full demon mode, the contract in his hand, slowly began to burn.
Shadow closed his eyes and thought of a more peaceful time when he was a small boy when music was his only joy. Suddenly, his fingers began to move, he played like only Shadow Sims could, not for accolades, but for contentment.
As the piece ended, the entire cellblock erupted in raucous applause. Reborn, Shadow looked up with tear-filled eyes. He glanced offstage; Blue had vanished. He smiled at the irony of finding freedom behind prison bars.
BAD MOON RISING
Delancy wanted to live like a Baller, but that Bad Moon of his just might cost him his life.
Nothing ever comes easy for me. I guess that shouldn’t come as no big surprise.
My Mom’s once told me, “Delancey, you was just born under a bad moon.”
I never quite knew what that meant, but if it meant being the unluckiest SOB on the planet, then Mom’s was a prophet.
Born in the hood, my Pop’s hauled ass when I was still a baby, which made my Mom’s turn to her new lover Jack Daniels. I’m too short to play basketball, too skinny to play football and can’t dance to save my life. So I guess it’s no wonder I’m out here slingin’ `caine. Where else can a “bad moon” brother like me make five G’s in one week?
Yeah, I know, I got one foot in the grave, the other in the pen. The way I figure it before my bad moon can rise on me again, I work this gig for another six months. I stash half of what I make in a safe deposit box, and then I’ll do a Jed Clampett, “Californey is the place you oughta’ be,” and wild out of town. It was a good plan, too bad nobody told Secret Matthews.
The beef between Secret and me has been brewing since we were both PG-13s in Junior High. We called him Secret because for a Big Man, he speaks in the softest voice, almost girl like. But if you live in my hood, you know that when Secret speaks, you better be listening, because if you don’t, you’ll be the one whispering with a slit throat.
On the street, Secret is no joke, he runs most of the houses on the East Side. Nobody moves anything without Secret taking a substantial cut; nobody except me.
Let me school you on my game. I decided to parlay the local colleges, the “Burbs,” white folks money. I had met a couple of snowflakes who connected me to the party crowd uptown, and it wasn’t long before every Barney cramming for finals was buying from yours truly.
While that Tinker Bell voice bastard Secret had to nickel and dime his way up the ladder, I’ve been pulling down weight in a month that he could only dream of. Unfortunately for me, good news often travels fast. My boy Beast Mode just texted me, seems Secret has found out about my success. He’s found out where I’m staying and is on his way to do a “hostile takeover.”
“Son of a bitch, bad luck got my number again.” I thought. “So long six-month safety net.”
I needed to make my exit like yesterday. I dashed over to the fake fireplace, grabbed the last of my stash, the ten G’s I kept for emergencies, and my nickel-plated .22. I took another look out the window; saw a black Beemer pull up. The door opens, it’s him, I’d know that big water head anywhere. I head for the back stairs, opened the stairwell door race down a flight. There’s a window, I take a quick glimpse out, stop in my tracks. His boys are parked out back.
“Damn, think Delancey boy, think.”
I turn and race back up to my floor, I hear a hum, it’s the elevator; I’m a dead man. Suddenly, the door to 4G opens. It’s Old Man Benson, grabbing his newspaper. I sprint towards Benson’s apartment, damn near knock him over, as I push him and me into the apartment, slamming the door shut behind us.
“Boy,” he said. “Whatever you been smoking done took the last bit of sense you had.”
I flash my gun at him, put my finger to my lips to quiet him. “Chill old man,” I don’t want nothing from you but time. These dudes coming to deep six me, I need to hide out here.”
Old Man Benson looked at me incredulously. He was pissed, but he sank down in his recliner.
“You that youngster just moved in down the hall ain’t ya?”
I ignored him, holding my ear to the door, listening for Secret.
“Seems like you got yourself in some mess,” he said, “Maybe I can help.”
I chuckled. “The only way you can help me old man is to shut up and wait this thing out. This cat Secret is coming after me. He don’t know nothing about peace and love, you feel me?
Benson looked up at me intrigued “Secret, Eastside Kingpin?”
Now I was intrigued. “What’s an old fart like you know about Secret?” I replied.
There’s a loud bang on a door. I know Secret’s at my apartment. Old Man Benson stared at me, then at my trembling hand holding the gun. Two more loud thuds followed, it was my apartment door being kicked in. Knowing Secret, he would bust down every door on this floor until he was satisfied I wasn’t here. I was trembling more noticeably. Mr. Benson defiantly stood up. I was too scared to even point the gun at him.
“Look here son,” he said, “You don’t look like you’re more than eighteen, nineteen years old. What possessed you to think you could sell drugs and not have any consequences?”
He sounded like the father I never had. I sat down on Benson’s couch. There was more pounding, this time on the door right across from us. Once again, there was that sickening sound of wood being ripped from the doorpost. This time the carnage was accompanied by a scream. There was the sound of movement, things or people shoved against the wall. Then the sound of the footsteps got closer. They were right outside the door.
“Look man, “ I said to Benson. “I don’t want you to get capped with me, maybe I can go out the window.”
Benson laughed. “Fool, this ain’t the movies. We’re four stories up and there’s no fire escape.”
I flinched as big knuckles rapped on Benson’s door. I aimed the .22 at the door, hands shaking like I had Parkinson’s. I glanced over at Benson, expecting to see him pulling a Fred Sanford; instead, his face was as cool as the other side of the pillow.
“If you had the chance to get out of this,” he said, “would you quit the game? Jump on the first thing smoking out of town?”
“What’s this, Fantasy Island?” I thought. I was too scared to talk. I just nodded my head. Benson patted me on the shoulder and moved towards the door.
There was another knock on the door, this one louder and more violent than the last. Benson opened it without hesitation, and there stood Secret, all six foot six of his ugly hide, along with two of his wrestler sized goons. Secret looked at Benson, grimaced than look at me on the couch. I almost peed my pants. I figured he’s just gonna’ open fire on both Benson and me. Poor old dude, gonna’ die trying to help my stupid ass.
Strangely there was no gunfire, no yelling, In fact, Secret’s boys actually took two steps back.
“Boy what the hell you doing knocking on my door like you some kind of lunatic?” Benson said.
I waited for Secret to slam the old man’s head into the door. He eyeballed Benson, who gave Secret a look that revealed no fear. It blew my mind when it was Secret who looked away first, almost apologetically.
“Sorry Grandpa, but that little bitch owes me money.”
Benson slapped Secret across his face. “Debt’s paid, go home and tell your mama, I expect some ribs and jerk chicken at the family reunion next week.”
Big bad Secret looked like a whipped school child. He glanced murderously at me, than looked at his boys. He snapped his fingers. Then all three turned and walked away.
Benson calmly closed the door. He walked over to me. “Boy, take whatever money you got and hit the highway. I don’t’ wanna’ hear about your narrow ass being in my city again, you hear?”
He reached into my coat and grabbed my dope stash. “And I’ll take this.”
He walked into the bathroom and flushed my stash down the toilet.
“Now before my grandson does to you, what I would have done to you forty years ago, get gone. I hear California’s a nice place to visit.”
Benson didn’t have to tell me twice. I hauled my ass to the airport and was on the first thing flying to California. As that 747 lifted into the sky, I smiled for the first time. It looked like the boy with the Bad Moon over him had finally gotten a break.
About the Author
Daryl Keith Middlebrook was born in the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan and is currently a Writer/Director/Historian and Film Producer living in Van Nuys, California. A graduate of Los Angeles Film School, Daryl completed his first film, the documentary The Making of Falling Like Dominoes. He is currently earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at Full Sail University in Creative Writing.
A film historian, Daryl ran Northern Sun Entertainment, where he procured and resold vintage movie memorabilia. Daryl was a top seller on Ebay for more than five years. Daryl’s collection of African American film memorabilia, which extends from the 1920s to the present, has earned praise from industry peers.
A veteran of the United States military, Daryl served in the Army for five years as a telecommunications operator, achieving the rank of Sergeant.
Connect with Daryl Keith Middlebrook
Thank you for experiencing Urban Griot. I would love to hear from you, your thoughts, opinions, criticisms, expansions and whatever frees your mind. Here are my social media coordinates:
Connect on LinkedIn: [+ https://www.linkedin.com/in/daryl-middlebrook-02559795+]
Visit my website:
In West Africa, the Griot (pronounced gre-o) was the village storyteller, poet and historian. The Griot told tales of kings and commoners alike. It was his duty to be the voice of the people, the troubadour of truth, the one who kept the old folks alive when they had crossed over to the other side. The Urban Griot is a compilation of three short stories of African American peoples, not in the Motherland, but whose descendants were captured and taken to a land far away called America. It is here that our stories ceased to be told. Hundreds of years of slavery and oppression still our voices for a time, but over time, new voices began to arise. Here are tales of our people, our situations, which are much, like those of other Americans, but not as widely told.