Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of this story about an empty grave found in an under-construction Beltline where we try to ascertain whether I can write a compelling story with hip-hop as the background. We just found out the kid with a “gang tag” doing his homework in the car the night of the pot festival is an aspiring rapper with a hip-hop pedigree that connects him to Big Daddy Jay, who a decade ago was a big star, but is now a producer, and recently out of jail in New York where he took the fall for a protégé. Then we heard from people who walked down what would become the Beltline late at night after the pot festival, where they say a guy digging a grave. Once Diana does some research, she finds out that Big Daddy Jay was married to one of the other men in the group, Thirty Ought, who has since disappeared, presumed to be hiding from the law but possibly recently disinterred from the Beltline. So now, finally, five thousand words in, we get to meet actual hip-hoppers:
Diana was right to wear the fancy earplugs, thought Mustapha. Even he thought it was loud as shit in Club 112, and his hearing had been crap ever since Vietnam. The scene was off the hook, if anyone still used that phrase: bodies writhing, bass pounding, multiple video screens ready to set off anyone’s epilepsy. His sense of smell worked great, though: he wished he’d brought some nose plugs along to block the sweat, cologne, absurdly overpriced brand-name liquor, all overlaid by a thick mix of about two-to-one tobacco to high-quality cannabis.
Diana stood on tiptoes and cupped her hands to say something into the ear of the bouncer, who looked like he’d been rejected by the NFL for being too big. The bouncer nodded, spoke into a lapel mike, called in a manager, a fireplug of a man in a two-thousand-dollar suit. A few more whispered words, and the manager led them straight across the crowded dance floor, he and Diana slim enough to slip between the dancers, Mustapha relying on bulk and cop glare. Just as they were in the middle of the dance floor, the music abruptly cut out; Mustapha watched bodies melt in slow motion from dance poses back to earth. The DJ’s voice came through the speakers like the word of god: “Murder police in the house!” The crowd cheered, the beat came back, the dancers’ arms shot to the sky.
Within moments, they were in a VIP room: velvet couches, bottle service, the glitter side of gangster. Inside, the music had its own volume control, so it was tolerable, though Mustapha fancied he could see the one-way glass looking out on the dance floor vibrating from the bass outside. Big Daddy Jay held court in the center, an outer ring of hangers-on surrounding an inner, this latter in a slightly different dialect of logos and poses. Had they come with him from New York? None of them were real gangsters, except the kid next to Big Daddy, who was hard, eyes unmoving, tweaked among a bunch of stoners.
Big Daddy rose to greet them. “Now I know I’m home for reals. Two days back and I got the po-lice asking me questions.” His suit was gorgeous and understated; the flashy rings and necklaces and earrings were anything but. Yet the diamonds were all too big: Mustapha was willing to bet that a businessman like Big Daddy Jay wouldn’t wear real stones to a club. “Y’all know I’ve been up north for years?”
Diana said, “There’s no statute of limitations on murder, Mr. Evans.”
“You got the wrong guy. I hung out with some hard men back in the day, but I’ve been strictly a businessman all my life.”
“You just did a year in jail.”
He patted the young man’s shoulder. “That was just protecting my investment.” He turned to the kid. “Shaun, these here the real life Atlanta murder police. This lady started a little after my time, but the big man has put more men in jail, sent more men to the death chamber, then the whole Pirate Mafia ever put in the ground. Detectives, remember this moment, and you can tell y’all’s kids you met Shawty G before he blew up platinum. Say hi, Shaun.”
The kid just glared. Diana said, “I’m already treasuring the memory. Say, Mr. Evans: where’s your husband?”
The room went silent for an instant, though the music never stopped. Shawty Gee’s glare softened into confusion; Big Daddy’s broad grin flashed to grim for an instant before reasserting itself. “Man, y’all have done your homework.”
“Your husband?” said the kid.
“Yeah,” said Diana. “He and Thirty Ought were married, in 2004, up in Massachusetts.”
Big Daddy smiled, in control once again. “It’s true. He was sick, you see? Having this weird shit happen to him. We went to a doctor, paid cash, no records. Multiple sclerosis. And there ain’t nobody going to give a real gangsta like Thirty Ought no health insurance, especially with a pre-existing condition. Me, I always had a policy. So we went up there, had the wedding. Laughed our asses off about it. It was Thirty Ought’s idea: he read about Massachusetts making gay marriage legal and figured that was how he could get fixed. He was a hard, tough man; but multiple sclerosis is a terrible curse.”
Big Daddy looked down and noticed that he was worrying the ring on one finger with the fingers of the other hand. He put his hands carefully to his sides. “Anyway. It was all about the healthcare. And it worked: he started getting treatment. Look it up. But then, a little while after I went up North, he stopped returning my calls. I figure he’s got a girlfriend, what’s he need with a husband? Maybe a few months later, his moms calls me, wonders if he’s up there. I made some calls, but… y’all cops took down the New Pirate Mafia, and nobody’d seen him. Thirty Ought’s mom said she talked to y’all. But she passed on while I was a guest of the state of New York.” He picked up his champagne glass, toasted the air. “God rest her. I asked around, looked up some old friends, when I did the show in Pittsburgh this morning. But it’s a whole new generation: some of those kids ain’t even heard of Thirty Ought.”
Shaun narrowed his eyes. “You was married? To a man?”
“Still am.” He reached out, pinched the kid’s cheek. “Why I ain’t axed you yet.” Most of the hangers-on laughed. He looked at Diana. “Anything else y’all need to know?”
“Sure. Where were you Friday night? Early Saturday morning.”
“Me and Shaun here went to that 4/20 Festival. Strictly for the music, you understand?”
“Of course. You were together the whole time?”
“No. Shaun here found him some company of the female persuasion. I hung out, listened to what them stoners are doing with beats. But that’s all I’m going to say. Y’all find Thirty Ought, tell him to call me. He owes me a few years’ worth of anniversary presents.” He stood up, fished out a phone, looked at Diana. “Read me your number, and I’ll text you my attorney’s contact information.”
This was the hardest part to pull off, because it’s a culture I only really know second-hand. But it works, because we’ve already got to know BDJ and what he’s all about, so nothing here comes straight out of left field. He was married for health insurance: not uncommon, though a little unorthodox for the standard image of hip-hop, given that it’s a gay marriage. It makes sense, though: they’re married on the down-low not because they’re secret lovers, but because BDJ was trying to help his friend with medical treatment. It humanizes them both and draws us away from “pure” hip-hop, thus making the story much easier for me to write.
But where does the story go, now? BDJ has explained everything so far.