It was two hours past noon when Kevin finished an extensive cleaning of his apartment. One by one, all items he deemed unnecessary found their way into black garbage bags. Even a few useful belongings snuck in to join them. Feeling quite energized, and with an enlarged sense of determination, Kevin promised to never let his untidiness become as sprawling again. He figured discarding the lot of it was a good start.
For the first time in nearly a month, Kevin started his morning with a lengthy run in the nearby park. Kevin had found that whenever his day began productively, happiness would follow suit. Nor did it hurt that the weather was perfect; it was a beautiful autumn day. He admired the healing power that came with exercise. Physical stimulation often valiantly combatted anger and depression. However, despite his awareness of all its benefits, self-motivation seldom came easy. But as of the afternoon, Kevin felt the winds of change. He foresaw drastic transformations coming to his life. It was time for him to better his lifestyle, meaning priority number one was for him to stop selling drugs. But such a change was easier said than done.
Sadly for Kevin, his drug transactions made up the majority of his human interaction. He found pleasure in being desirable, even if it was only for a brief moment of want. In a way, Kevin needed to hustle as much as he needed to quit. Ironically, it was his least favorite day of the week, the day he restocked his inventory.
Meeting his supplier was a ritual Kevin rarely enjoyed, as it usually involved him sitting at his dealer’s house with unpleasant company. Then when it was perceived that enough time had passed, such that Kevin’s coming and going wasn’t viewed as suspicious, he was allowed to leave. On occasion they would hold him there for hours.
His supplier was a man named Derek, a neighborhood friend connected to bigger schemes by means of his older brother, Syd—a truly dangerous individual. Syd ran the local gang that operated out of their neighborhood. He also served as one of the biggest heroin dealers this side of downtown. Although heavily influenced by his brother, Derek still held pieces of a good heart firmly within him, and so he and Kevin were able to maintain their friendship.
After finishing a home-cooked teriyaki stir-fry, Kevin assembled his money and hit the streets. Five minutes later, he steered his car left from a wide avenue known as The Boulevard and parked in the nearest available space. In reality Kevin could have walked. However, transporting large quantities of marijuana by foot was never intelligent; the contents of his bag would be no secret to anyone familiar with the scent. Kevin felt like a sitting duck whenever he sold drugs without his car. He always viewed himself as a potential target for a mugging.
As Kevin exited his vehicle, an unexpected shout from the far side of the road grabbed his attention, causing him to abruptly spin around. He then chuckled and shook his head. Standing against a worn-down, graffiti covered building was Derek. He was a brown-haired man of Kevin’s age and stature, and currently leaned against the wall sporting an equally baggy outfit, complete with a toothpick between his teeth.
“What up K,” said Derek, grinning. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
He proceeded to give Kevin a distinct local handshake, which was quickly followed by a mutual salute between them. The two then entered the dense jumble of brick houses that sat ahead of them. Due to Syd’s paranoia, Derek’s instructions were to meet Kevin a few blocks away to accompany him back to headquarters. That way if there were any mistrustful neighbors, Derek’s presence would help ease suspicions.
The pair talked baseball as they walked a distinct route to a forbidden location. Nowadays their mutual appreciation for baseball was arguably their only remaining common ground. In the beginning, Derek had befriended Kevin as a means to flirt with his long-lost sister. He backed off after quickly realizing her lack of interest. The two boys remained good friends nonetheless, as Kevin had always sought acceptance among the youth in their neighborhood. The sharing of turbulent childhoods only increased their bond. Derek’s mother had even taken Kevin in from time to time, mostly after his sister’s departure. Derek’s father, however, had abandoned his family shortly after the birth of his youngest son, leaving his mother to raise two knuckleheads on her own. Kevin considered them lucky in this regard. To him, if a father was no good, his children were better off with him absent. But as of today, Kevin’s kinship with Derek was far from pure, as he was often disgusted by Derek’s infatuation with Syd. For their entire lives, Derek’s biggest goal had been to win the respect of his horrible sibling, yet he rarely succeeded. Despite that fact, he never stopped endeavoring; and so Kevin found it difficult to continuously respect him.
They soon arrived.
Behind Syd’s old grey Buick stood a detached row house that was surrounded by a rusty black-picket fence. Every surface apart from the roof was blanketed by ivy, with only a few of the house’s dark brown bricks remaining visible. Overgrown weeds were prevalent throughout the un-kept front yard, tangled throughout the fence. Empty bottles and filled ashtrays lay scattered about the porch.
Once inside, Kevin made his way across the living room and greeted each occupant with the same local handshake. He took a seat in the unoccupied armchair while Derek rambled excitedly beside him, talking of a two-bit scheme he concocted that would surely be unsuccessful if attempted. In addition to Kevin and Derek, the inhabitants of the living room were Brittany, Sean, and Darius. Brittany, Syd’s girlfriend, was an icy woman who was both unobtrusive and crazy. The two undesirables formed a couple fostered straight from hell. Sean was muscle, a simpleton thug unworthy of further description. The last was Darius, an old friend of Syd’s who also served as his advisor. The two became acquainted in juvenile hall when they were teenagers. Darius, unlike the rest, grew up in one of the East End’s most notorious neighborhoods, an area known to natives as The Hill. Using his Hill connections, Darius was able to organize a profitable business arrangement between his neighborhood and Syd’s. It was an unlikely merge, but it was one that expanded the pockets and connections of all parties involved. Around these parts, one could say that ego was at an all time high...
Kevin sat restless in his armchair. More than an hour had passed since his arrival and still he had not received the drugs that he had come for. It always seemed to Kevin like the gang was toying with him, for he was now being told that he would not receive his pound of marijuana until Syd returned from his business. Kevin hadn’t the faintest idea of why he was being told to wait. Derek was usually the one who handled the weed operation. It had been years since Syd had business dealings involving marijuana.
The gang, as they talked and waited for Syd, passed around rolled cigars stuffed with weed and listened to loud hip-hop music through an overpriced surround system. Kevin initially partook in smoking to ease frustrations, but then found himself anxious and annoyed as a result of the high. He despised listening to the bigoted, misogynistic chatter of the gang. Their ignorance hardly ceased to surprise. Even Brittany and Darius played active participant, which truly baffled Kevin. But then again maybe it shouldn’t have.
After what seemed like an eternity, the sociopath himself emerged through the door. Syd was stockier than Derek and had a buzzed haircut. He sported several facial scars and neck tattoos that supplemented his intimidating appearance. Although comforted knowing he would soon get to leave, Kevin knew better than to pester Syd. It wasn’t until after the necessary small talk that Syd turned his head towards Kevin, flashing him a grin that resulted in chills.
“The guest of honor,” Syd went on to say, prompting interest.
“And why is that?” responded Kevin.
But Syd didn’t answer. The man had switched his attention to the cigarillo in his hand and was now splitting the rolled brown tobacco leaf at its upper tip.
Kevin found Syd’s comment to be unsettling. It was unusual that Syd had even batted an eye at Kevin, let alone mentioned him directly, and the idea of being anywhere near Syd’s thoughts was terrifying. The last thing Kevin wanted was to wind up tangled in with the gang, or to end up in their pocket. He would be wise to tread lightly.
Syd eventually turned to Kevin. A freshly rolled blunt was now resting between his grinning lips.
“I got bad news for you, K,” he said, lighting the cigar. “It’s time you paid your debt to the gang. Square us up, you feel me.”
Kevin’s face contorted, causing Brittany and Darius to laugh and Syd’s smile to widen.
“The deal is this,” Syd continued. “If you want that P just like always, you gonna have to do us a solid right quick.”
Kevin was astounded at what he heard.
“The fuck you mean debt?” he retorted, annoyance apparent in his speech. “I don’t owe you shit.”
Syd grinned again; smoke seeped menacingly from his teeth.
“See, now that’s where you’re wrong,” he exhaled. “You think I enjoy having my dumbass brother sell you trees outta my headquarters, and at the family discount none the less! You do know you the only motherfucker buying drugs from this house, right? We been hooking you up for years, got you sittin’ real pretty too. So now its time you returned the appreciation.”
Kevin had no response to this. His face fell to the ground and so did Derek’s. It was a valid point. He spent the next minute mulling on what Syd had so elaborately implied. Kevin then came to believe that his displeasure with the gang had significantly clouded his vision, and that Syd was right. Ignoring a history dating back to his early teens would be nothing less than denial. He certainly would admit their connections had indeed been beneficial. And now Syd was declaring reimbursement like it was Kevin’s responsibly to obey. What choice did he have, really?
“Fine,” Kevin grunted dejectedly. “What’s this solid I gotta do?”
“Now that’s more like it,” chuckled Syd, giving Darius a subtle nod.
Darius acknowledged the gesture by tossing Syd the backpack that had been rested near his feet.
“One of my main runners got pinched today,” Syd continued. “Cops pulled him over and found a gun in his whip. So I’mma need you to make his run instead. Trust me, we’re pretty short staffed at the moment.”
Syd threw Kevin the backpack. Upon feeling its weight and the shape of its contents, Kevin’s stomach dropped, for he knew exactly what the bag held. Heroin. Syd then handed him a note containing an address.
“I need you to take this package to this location,” he instructed. “My people are already there, you just have to exchange the bag for money. Once you got the money, bring it back here, and I’ll personally hand you your P.”
Kevin looked briefly at the scribbled address. His heart sank further after recognizing the street name.
“This is in The Valley, isn’t it?” he asked, already knowing the answer. “Fuck that, get someone else to do it. I’m not trying to go down enemy turf.”
Syd’s expression changed at once.
“Well, then you ain’t getting that weed then, are you?” he sneered. “Forget the service. Forget the cheap prices. You’re finished.”
Kevin strongly considered accepting that offer; it was the perfect opportunity to quit hustling. He smiled at the thought. Maybe leaving the drug game wouldn’t be as hard as he had originally expected. Kevin found the idea comforting. But then his mind drifted, and in turn landed on the prospect of life without his hustle. Drug dealing had long been his primary purpose, and Kevin was fearful that his empty existence would become even barer without said purpose. Kevin began to think of all the people who would instantly vanish. Then his thoughts arrived on Shelly, putting an end to his brief bout of indecision.
“Fuck it, I’ll do it,” Kevin conceded, his eyes finding Syd’s. “You sure I’m gonna be straight. I don’t think Maurice will be too happy if he finds you sneaking around his back yard.”
Syd let out a deep laugh.
“Son, keep your head out of matters that don’t concern you. Yes, you will be ok. You think I’d throw my own money away?”
Kevin was at a loss for words once again, as Syd’s logic couldn’t be argued. What exactly would Syd have to gain by sending him to the dogs?
Kevin donned the backpack and stood to his feet, shaking his head at the day’s madness as he threw the straps around his shoulders. He typed the address into his phone so he would not forget it.
“I’ll walk you out,” chimed Derek, jumping from the sofa. “I gotta hit the corner store anyway.”
The two departed from the residence. They walked without speaking, trudging back towards The Boulevard to where Kevin had parked his car. When they arrived at the tattered vehicle, Kevin immediately opened its trunk and hastily threw Syd’s backpack atop the spare tire. He turned to Derek and expressed his growing uneasiness.
“I’m telling you, man, something about this venture feels off to me. You really think I’ll be straight?”
Derek heard this and chortled.
“You worry too much, K, you’ll be back up here in no time.”
He motioned with his hand for Kevin to stop.
“Besides, I got something that’ll make you feel better.”
Then Derek, after checking for onlookers and seeing none, pulled out a small pistol and slipped it subtly in Kevin’s sweatshirt pocket. The two stared at each other intensely for the minute that followed. Kevin eventually broke the ice.
“This isn’t making me feel any better.”
But Derek only smiled. The two companions shook hands once again—the same gesture as they had done before—and then each went their separate ways.
Kevin reluctantly kept the gun. His instincts told him that it might be of use. A trip to The Valley stood on the horizon, and one could never be too careful…
Back in the house, Syd watched from the blinds as Kevin and Derek disappeared from view. He removed his hand from the window and laughed maliciously.
He walked from the living room to the kitchen table where Darius was currently sitting. Meeting Syd’s cold, grey eyes, Darius went on to ask him a question.
“So, you really sending K to his death, huh?”
Gathering himself for a response, Syd pulled the cigarette from his ear and took the seat at the table opposite of Darius. A serious look now shone in his eyes. He shook his head repeatedly and then answered.
“It’s inevitable, fam, we’re growing too fast.”
He lit his cigarette and took a few drags.
“It’s only a matter of time before we take The Valley. Why not do it now?”
Darius continued to stare at Syd, his calm expression unchanging.
“You sure the time is now? Have you considered the risks?”
“What risks? We got a multi-neighborhood conglomerate growing on the East Side. Each day we get bigger. They don’t have the infrastructure or the manpower to compete with us. The Valley is a one-man show; all you need to do is remove the head.”
“So its Maurice’s time then, huh?” inquired Darius, provoking a nod from Syd.
Darius grabbed a cigarette from the box on the table and lit it with a match. He then followed the question with another, only this time his tone was curious.
“So, why you choose K of all people?”
Syd gritted his teeth.
“Because for some reason, the boys seem to really like that faggot,” he snarled, his face twisting in anger. “It shouldn’t be too hard to get em all up in arms once he’s six feet down. Combine that with the smokescreen that we’ve been robbed, well, lets just say that it’s not too difficult to start a war. Plus, maybe this’ll finally make a man out of Derek.”
Syd discarded his cigarette.
“Besides, I got a decent bit of my money in play to make this convincing,” he continued. “See as it turns out, my ace in The Valley happens to be the number two down there. Once his boys pop K, they gonna chill on those bricks until Maurice meets God. When that happens, number two will become number one, and the junkies down there will learn to enjoy our cheaper, superior product.”
“So it’s a coup then?” Darius grinned, receiving yet another nod from Syd.
Darius burst into laughter.
“Syd,” he said. “You a treacherous motherfucker. You know that right?”
To which Syd could only smile…
Alex K.A. was born and raised in Pittsburgh’s East End. At age 18, while attending Taylor Allderdice High School, Alex began his writing venture by crafting acapella hip-hop lyrics. In the seven years that followed, he released two full-length hip-hop projects, The Belgreen Sessions in 2012 and Bird’s Eye View in 2015. A month after the release of Bird’s Eye View, Alex set hip-hop aside to write his debut novella, Hell With the Lid Off, which he released in June 2016. In early 2017, he released his second novella, The Windmaker’s Daughter. As for the future, he plans to continue writing and releasing short stories of varying types.