Pyramids and Ziggurats (2)

Here’s the opening sequence of the new story, whose outline is here: there’s been a body found at a regional Burning Man.

“Build a giant statue, set it on fire, dance around it naked.” Inspector Mustapha Alawi guided the Lexus off the country road and into the ruts hundreds of cars had made in the red Georgia clay underneath the grass. “Am I missing anything?”

Detective Diana Siddall was slumped in the passenger seat, looking green. They’d been partners long enough for Mustapha to know it wasn’t carsickness, but rather Diana being out of the city and in clean country air that mostly smelled of cowshit. “They’re all tripping out of their minds,” she said.

“Well, duh. Come on, we did this when I was young. Three days of peace and music.”

“I thought you were killing Viet Cong, in the jungle?”

“Generational thing. And it was North Vietnamese Army: the Viet Cong were done for by the time I got there. Only difference is, I bet these kids are streaming the whole thing on the Internet.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“We’re like sixty miles from Atlanta.”

The track felt bumpy even through the Lexus’s suspension. They turned a corner and emerged into a large fallow field where hundreds of cars were lined up neatly under the hot spring sun. The track ran through the center of the field, where in the shade of an enormous solitary tree a few shirtless people sat in camp chairs. As they approached the tree, a woman stood up and walked to Mustapha’s window. Cheerful, thirtysomething, flabby, topless, $5000 worth of tattoos, mostly mermaids. She produced as if from thin air a barcode scanner. “Y’all need to have your wristbands on before–”

Mustapha showed her his shield. “Atlanta Homicide. You want to point us to Sheriff Marconi?”

She stood up, blew out a sigh. “Yeah. They’re waiting for you. It’s going to be way easier for y’all to park and walk in.”

She waved them over to a spot in the shade. As they were parking, Mustapha was momentarily distracted by a vision walking toward him: a much slimmer, rather younger woman, lovely, smiling. No obvious tattoos, but her skin was mostly covered with body paint: amateurishly applied yellow and green sunflowers. “Hi,” she said to Mustapha through the still-open window. “Welcome to Euphoria. I’m Peaseblossom. I’ll take you to the effigy.”

“Nice to meet you,” said Mustapha as he started to exit the vehicle.

“You might want to put it in park,” said Diana.

Pyramids and Ziggurats (1)

Last May, before I unwisely took a hiatus from this blog to get involved in the election, I posted this story idea, created from when a friend told me the story of their experience at a “regional burn” or mini-Burning Man, and recapped here:

  1. In the woods in rural Georgia gather a thousand people, 5% real artists, 20% half-ass artists, 20% middle-class people whose idea of a great four-day weekend is camping and watching a shitshow while on big drugs, 10% skeevy dudes who want to ogle topless women, and 45% broken, traumatized hippies.

  2. Most of these people gather in prearranged groups of about 20 people, usually with some kind of theme, but there is an area set aside for people camping solo or in small groups. This area is a bit sketchier. It should also be noted that the parking area is well away from the camp: people drive their cars on a one-lane road into the camp, dump their stuff, take the car back, walk to the site and set up.

  3. The event is carefully privatized: sympathetic landowner, distant neighbors, wristbands and entry fees: the point is that local law enforcement can’t just show up and get in without probable cause, because this would end up with 995 people getting busted for drugs. The volunteer security patrol has to be really euphemistic over the radio because law enforcement is monitoring it.

  4. During the (very hot) day, a hippie girl passes out, so an ambulance is allowed in, followed by a sheriff’s car. But the girl is clearly just suffering from heatstroke, not intoxication, so no probable cause.

  5. Late that night, a man is found dead from what looks like an accidental fall. He was a solo camper, someone who a few people recognize as a decent guy peripheral to the scene. But dead is dead, and now the sheriff’s team gets to come in and investigate. But some of the campers are attorneys, and the organizers are well-versed in the law, so while the sheriff can cordon off the event, they can’t ransack anyone’s camp, especially since the death appears to be misadventure.

  6. The next morning, however, the local medical examiner fingerprints the dead guy, and he pops right up as a person of interest in an Atlanta homicide case. Also, the injuries aren’t consistent with an accidental fall.

  7. Diana and Mustapha drive down to RuralWorld, meet the sheriff. talk. The dead guy was an important witness in a homicide case: anyone who knew him in Atlanta knew he liked to go to these giant burn parties. Sheriff wants to bust in and sort through everyone; D/M convince him otherwise. Wait, no: the sheriff is a woman.

  8. They meet with the sheriff and the organizers of the burn, and once they explain to the organizers that they think there are murderers loose in their camp. the organizers reluctantly agree to let D/M into the burn undercover, set them up as volunteer security people and let them roam.

  9. Each of them is paired up with a more experienced burner and starts to patrol. Both the burners are of course batshit crazy like foxes, so this is occasion for infodump and comic relief. Throughout these scenes, we play against type: Diana the kinky liberal is like WTF this is stupid, and Mustapha the old guy is like the 21st century rules. “Acidheads STILL like pyramids!”

  10. Each of them separately explores the area of the camp near where the dead guy pitched his tent. We find out from hilariously vague witnesses that there were three guys, who appeared out of place, camping near that spot, but that they have since moved.

  11. The climactic moment for most of the campers arrives: the giant structure is ceremonially set aflame. D/M are observers and are pressured to participate.

  12. Almost immediately thereafter, it starts to rain, not very hard. This is good, say their companions, because it will make for people tripping under tents instead of going balls-out outside. It’s a quiet night, except for dueling techno and bad karaoke.

  13. Mustapha’s partner leads him into the woods because tripping campers often wander up there and get lost. Diana’s partner helps her find people who might know who the mystery campers were.

  14. Up in the woods, a call comes through on the radio that there’s a car in the camp trying to get out. Mustapha’s partner panics: “This usually means the people driving it are tripping way too hard, and we know the sheriff’s out there someplace.” They go running through the woods, Blair Witch style.

  15. They’re too late, but Diana and her partner are right there. Diana waves to hippie guarding one-lane road to freedom to back off and let the car through, relying on the sheriff, but the hippie misunderstands and tries to block the car. Driver shoots hippie, Diana shoots driver, Mustapha catches up, Diana’s heretofore trippingly useless hippie partner does something awesome and takes down one of the remaining thugs. Mission accomplished: they had come because they knew the witness would come, and they thought they could get away, but they didn’t know that nobody’s supposed to bring in a car at night, so they alerted “security”.

  16. We end with Diana wanting to go home and Mustapha wanting to enjoy the party. “I think that girl liked me.”

    I’m bringing this one back up because I intend to write the story over the next two weeks, and I want to hold myself to it. If I’m going to do it from the detectives’ point of view, the chronology is going to have to get mixed up. It has to start with #7, and with Diana being the one with a romantic view of an event like this and Mustapha very skeptical. From there, we get the rest of the background.

 

Chief of Operations

A quick bit of flash fiction from the prompt “Here’s to You”.

The pop of the champagne cork sounded like a click through the phone’s speaker. Inspector Mustapha Alawi watched again, handed the phone back to his partner, shrugged. “Get promoted to the executive suite, come home and get shot in a home invasion. Welcome to Atlanta.”

Detective Diana Siddall rolled her eyes. “What home invasion?” She walked around Tyler Graham’s cooling corpse and pulled a drawer from the dresser.

He looked over his reading glasses to see a fat roll of cash and the glint of gold and diamonds. He shrugged again. “Okay. Well, assassination narrows the list of potential suspects.”

“You’re the silver lining in my life.”

Graham’s wife Cheryl hadn’t been at the banquet. “He loves that world, all that back-slapping one-percenter shit,” she said between bouts of sobbing. “I stay away so I don’t turn into the screeching harpy. He lets me do what I want, I let him climb over bodies up the ladder. Uh, not real bodies.” The book club ladies confirmed her story: if they had conspired with her to murder Graham, they’d have been smart enough to take the cash and jewels.

Graham’s ex Daphne looked like a better suspect, especially once they found records of the domestic-violence call from years ago, but she was on a plane to Chicago during both the banquet and the murder. “Man, that sucks,” she said, almost convincingly. “I find texts from Sydney, I go ballistic, he tells me Sidney is a man. Didn’t know it could be a man’s name. Turns out he was screwing Sidney anyway. As long as he was on top, y’know?”

Graham’s boss Charles Reynolds, the CEO, seemed human. “I should really be thinking about Tyler’s family, but here I am, thinking of the work I put in to get him to the executive level.” At Mustapha’s eyebrow, “This high up? It’s all politics. Now I owe a lot of people favors.”

If there’s a winner in a corporate power struggle, there’s a loser. Heather Jacobs was a case study in conflict. “Tyler was a rival, not an enemy. I had an escort with me at the banquet and after: you want my alibi, I’ll call her. I ought to be next in line for that job, but Charlie shit-talked me all up and down the C-suite because he wanted Tyler there.”

Mustapha shrugged. “The pay raise’ll help with your feelings.”

But nothing clicked until they got Daphne back from Chicago and had her flip through photos. “Oh, that guy,” she said, pointing at a picture of Reynolds. “Tyler hated him. Y’know what I said about being on top? There was a fraternity thing: Tyler took a lot of abuse from him. Like, abuse abuse.”

In the interview room, Reynolds was at ease, not even sweating. “Why would I kill Tyler? I promoted him.”

Diana showed him a grainy image on her tablet. “Because in his safe-deposit box, we found an old VHS tape. You haven’t aged a day, but I hear tell rape’ll keep you young. You keep your enemies closer.”

The smile of the true sociopath. “He played the game well.”

“And you… well, didn’t. Your leased Ferrari you drove to his house has a GPS tracker.”

Not even a blink. “I drove him home.”

She showed another image. “He took Lyft. It’s such a pity that you’ll probably do well in prison.”

 

Read a Story Here: “Chorus Verse Chorus”

Here’s a link to a freshly-published story, Chorus Verse Chorus. It deals with the perils of fame and can be found in the latest issue of Eyedrum Periodically. Here’s the first couple of paragraphs:

Inspector Mustapha Alawi peered through the rain-spattered windshield with a sour expression on his face. As Diana pulled to a stop at the barricade just past Seventh Street, he lunged for the door. “Hyenas are already here.”

Diana looked up Peachtree, where the barricades were pushing the usual Saturday night cruise around the block, to see the TV lights. “Oh, this is Roxanne’s building.” At Mustapha’s puzzled look, she explained. “Everyone wants to catch her and her entourage on their way out clubbing.” As they got out of the car, she saw that he still wasn’t getting it. “Roxanne Stone?”

“Oh, yeah, the little rocker chick. You mean that’s why we gotta come out here on a rainy night for a suicide? To babysit the press?”

They walked through the barricades and pushed their way through the strata of fans, press, paparazzi and police before they made it into the lobby of the Metropolis complex that loomed over the street between Eighth and Tenth. As they were ushered through the doors, Diana turned back and gazed at the sea of lights, and felt young and innocent again. The range of fans blocking all of Peachtree carried signs and banners, nearly all with variations on We [Heart] You Roxanne, or on Toy With Me, the new single that Diana had heard blasting from her daughter’s bedroom twice a day for several weeks now. One enormous banner had a promo shot of Roxanne, done up about a third of the way from rock to goth, with her great wide vulnerable eyes below a boy’s short haircut. The heavy eyeliner and mascara, and the deadpan waifish stare, made the three-word slogan even more vivid.

Check out the rest.

The Mothership Connection (13)

Parts 1, 234567891011 and 12 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. They confront BDJ in a club and he explains that he and Thirty Ought got married for medical insurance: Thirty Ought had multiple sclerosis. Diana gets a corrupt judge to allow them to disinter a new grave near another section of the Beltline, they find Thirty Ought’s body, and inform our aspiring rapper Christopher that he’s actually Thirty Ought’s heir, he owns half of everything, and if he helps them by snitching, he can have it all. But Big Daddy has a plausible claim that Thirty Ought died of natural causes, and that he hid the body because he feared he’d be held responsible for it way back then. Lastly, a gangster imprisoned for crimes back in the day tells our detectives he has a way for them to nail Big Daddy for murder… but it’s not quite what we’re led to think.

This time, it was Big Daddy who was resplendent in finery, while his lawyer was in a plain black suit. The hotel suite at the Ritz still smelled of weed smoke, even though the windows were open and the smell and sound of Peachtree Street traffic filled the room.

The lawyer looked at Diana and Mustapha with narrow, reddened eyes. “The hell you back here for? My client made bail.”

“For now,” said Diana. “But there’s no bail on murder charges.”

Shawty G’s bugged-out eyes made him look even higher. “Man, you think Big Daddy’s going to do any time, you wrong: snitches get stitches, even if it’s just on the autopsy table.”

“Shut the fuck up,” said Mustapha. “Haven’t you heard you’re under new ownership?” He pointed at Big Daddy. “Stand up.”

Big Daddy’s eyes were clear. “We are already negotiating in good faith with the DA’s office.” He remained seated.

The lawyer said, “And they know full well they’ll get nowhere prosecuting Mr. Oakes for Mr. Beatty’s death.”

“Natural causes, baby,” said Big Daddy.

Diana said, “Oh, we know about that. And you’re right: you’ll never do time for killing Mr. Beatty.”

Mustapha said, “But that’s not why we’re here.”

Diana smiled “No. You see, there were three of you in the New Pirate Mafia. Poor dear old Sweet T, died in the tub. Weed, boombox, accident. But we have a witness, and an affidavit, and… oh, yes, Mr. Oakes, you should look worried.”

A long, slow smile, almost genuine. “I’m not. If it’s the witness I’m thinking of, he’s in jail. A convicted felon.”

The lawyer stirred himself to say, “Not credible.”

“Not by himself,” said Mustapha. “He gets up in court, talks about how you picked up the boombox and tossed it in the bathtub, then laughed as you watched your partner twitch himself to death, the jury probably won’t buy it.”

Diana said, “But the Atlanta Police Department is a giant bureaucracy. It took us forever, poking around in a dusty warehouse on a hot spring day, but we found the boombox.”

“Sealed in plastic,” said Mustapha. “For seven years.”

“And guess whose fingerprints are on it, nice and neat, right where you’d grab it to throw it in?”

“Stand up, Big Daddy,” said Mustapha. “You’re under arrest for the murder of William Carter, a.k.a. Sweet T. You have the right to remain silent, but it don’t matter, as we have evidence and corroborative testimony. Come on, get up before I dislocate your shoulder pulling you up.” He saw Shawty G start to move. “Assaulting an officer will get you a lot more than stitches, kid.”

Diana unholstered her sidearm. “Just try us. Oh, and by the way; I talked to Christopher, who just as soon as Mr. Oakes here is convicted will own all of you instead of just half? He told me to tell you the enterprise is moving in a new direction, and that after today, you’re paying your own hotel bill.”

And that’s it. Misdirection: we haven’t mentioned dear old Sweet T for thousands of words now, but he was right there all along. Big Daddy spent a lot of time and effort covering up how he murdered his husband, but it never even occurred to him, let alone most people reading this story, that he might be held to account for his other partner’s death.

So I think I succeeded in writing a story about hip-hop, mostly because hip-hop is just the window dressing for a tale of murder and hubris. The classics always work.

Back to the novel next.

The Mothership Connection (12)

Parts 1, 2345678910 and 11 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. They confront BDJ in a club and he explains that he and Thirty Ought got married for medical insurance: Thirty Ought had multiple sclerosis. Diana gets a corrupt judge to allow them to disinter a new grave near another section of the Beltline, they find Thirty Ought’s body, and inform our aspiring rapper Christopher that he’s actually Thirty Ought’s heir, he owns half of everything, and if he helps them by snitching, he can have it all. But Big Daddy has a plausible claim that Thirty Ought died of natural causes, and that he hid the body because he feared he’d be held responsible for it way back then. Now, let’s enjoy the final plot twist:

The skinny, balding man in the orange jumpsuit arranged the file folders in front of him. “Thanks for taking the time, y’all.”

“It was a long drive, Mr. Gibson,” said Mustapha. “This better be worth it.”

“Oh, it is. I’m not yanking your chain because I’m some bored gangster, stuck in a cell.”

Diana said, “We read your file. You’re a credit to the penal system.”

“Not so sure about that, ma’am.”

“You got your GED, your BA and now you’re halfway through law school. That’s impressive.”

“Thank you. But what I’m saying is, the penal system fought me all the way. They have no interest in rehabilitation. Never mind; that’s not the point. Way I hear it, y’all hauled Big Daddy up for moving the body, but the DA can’t make a murder charge stick. What I’m saying is, I can help you, but of course you need to help me. I got thirteen more years before I go out for parole; I want to do my last year of law school in the classroom.”

Mustapha started to stand up. “Talking about yanking our chain.”

“Don’t be hasty, Inspector. You want to see that monster go down, I know what nobody else does. Besides, my nephew? Christopher needs me, for protection.” He read their faces. “Legal protection. Business sense. My gangster days are far behind me. And the hip-hop business is full of thugs and criminals. You’ve both spoken to Christopher at length: they’ll eat him alive.”

Diana said, “Where is Christopher, by the way? Our DA can’t seem to find him. I’m worried Mr. Oakes already has got to him.”

“Rest your mind, ma’am. I’ve got a friend, a parolee? Christopher is staying with his cousins out in the country, away from all the rough and tumble. Your DA needs him, call me: he’ll be there in three hours or so. But y’all want Big Daddy for murder, and so do I. Hell, I’d give you him for free if it wasn’t my only ticket out of this cage. Me and Thirty Ought? We rode bikes together when we were like five years old. He was my brother. The hardest man I know. So he was gay. Someone else? I might not have liked it. But we both knew it from the start. Ain’t nothing. So that bitch Big Daddy comes along, dumbass suburban kid wants to be a big name, and he figures it out right away. He was the love of Thirty Ought’s life. All the while, they was the New Pirate Mafia? Thirty Ought saved his best poetry for old Big Daddy. I read how Big Daddy saying they got married for health insurance. Bullshit. Thirty Ought was still around to ask, he’d tell you it was the dream wedding he always wanted. And then that snake betrayed him. Broke his heart. Probably what killed him.”

Diana said, “That’s… touching, really. But you just said probably killed him. But probably doesn’t cut it in court.”

Mustapha said, “Yeah. There’s no thirteen years off a sentence for probably.”

Gibson smiled, slowly. “You’re right. I was in here by the time Thirty Ought disappeared. His mom came here, twice, trying to find out if I knew anything. I couldn’t help her, not with anything concrete.”

Mustapha groaned, and began to stand up. “Thanks for wasting our day, skell.”

“Please, don’t be hasty, Inspector. Sit down and hear a little story I got to tell.”

So, what’s the surprise? You might be able to read it between the lines. Gibson can’t have witnessed Thirty Ought’s death. So what’s he got that will take thirteen years off his sentence? What’s he got that will nail Big Daddy for murder? It’s all there: you just have to know where to look.

The Mothership Connection (11)

Parts 1, 23456789 and 10 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. They confront BDJ in a club and he explains that he and Thirty Ought got married for medical insurance: Thirty Ought had multiple sclerosis. Diana gets a corrupt judge to allow them to disinter a new grave near another section of the Beltline, they find Thirty Ought’s body, and inform our aspiring rapper Christopher that he’s actually Thirty Ought’s heir, he owns half of everything, and if he helps them by snitching, he can have it all. Now, Big Daddy’s in jail, awaiting arraignment:

Big Daddy looked a lot smaller in a prison jumpsuit; but his lawyer more than made up for this in both bulk and adornment. “It is simply unconscionable to have brutally detained Mr. Oakes in the midst of his–”

“Oh, stop,” said Diana. “We all like to have our fun.”

“Well. Let’s keep this brief, so I can extricate my client from this insalubrious location before the close of business. Given the treachery of that young man, it would be a waste of everyone’s time to attempt to assert that my client did not relocate Thirty Ought’s body. We are ready to plead guilty on that, accept our punishment and move on. But Mr. Oakes did not kill his… er, husband. You see, back in 2006, Thirty Ought’s MS symptoms caused him increasing pain and suffering. He used narcotics to alleviate this.”

Big Daddy said, “I come home one night and there he is, on the floor, stone dead. I loved the man—not in the gay sense, mind, but like the brother he was to me—and I hated seeing him in pain. But I cried like a baby with him in my arms. I still don’t know if it was an accident or a suicide.”

The lawyer said, “And what you won’t find is any evidence of homicide.”

“Who cares?” said Mustapha. “Hiding the body, profiting from his disappearance: the jury can draw its own conclusions.”

Big Daddy grimaced. “Man, I panicked cause it was my place he was dead in. Y’all was hunting us down, I knew damn well if I called it in y’all were gonna pin it on me. I thought about pulling a number from The Wire and sealing him in one of them houses in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t have no tools and it was three in the morning.”

Diana asked, “So why bury him in Midtown? Not really your neck of the woods.”

“Well, that was why. All the fellas in Pittsburgh? They was pool sharks. Man, you got no idea how much money I lost playing pool back in the day. So what I used to do was go on out there where nobody would recognize me, go to that Dupree’s place in that shopping center, put in some practice. I knew about them old train tracks from when I’d go out to smoke some herb. Went up to New York, lost track of my roots, didn’t hear nothing about no Beltline till that snitch bitch Christopher told me. Tell you the truth, I didn’t know nothing about Thirty Ought’s will, either, or I’d have been giving the boy his cut all along.”

“Sure you would,” muttered Mustapha.

“It’s immaterial,” said the lawyer. “The body? He’ll do his time. It’s a misdemeanor, anyway. The death? We will fight all charges with all our resources. You can’t prove homicide, you can’t prove murder. Your DA’s office is too risk-averse to roll those dice; and in the event Mr. Quinn chooses to try my clients, we feel confident Mr. Oakes will be acquitted.”

Big Daddy leaned back, hands behind his head. “Reasonable doubt all around, baby.”

So, body disposal, not murder; or at least, not murder anyone can prove. Will our detectives be able to find a way to keep Big Daddy in jail? We’ll find out next time.

 

The Mothership Connection (10)

Parts 1, 2345678 and 9 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. They confront BDJ in a club and he explains that he and Thirty Ought got married for medical insurance: Thirty Ought had multiple sclerosis. Diana gets a corrupt judge to allow them to disinter a new grave near another section of the Beltline:

Mustapha sat down in the chair and opened the folder. “This is a nice picture of you, Christopher. That’s kind of a big deal, being on stage with Big Daddy Jay. All the other aspiring rappers at Tri-Cities are going to be jealous. Someone as young as you, getting to warm up for that Shawty G guy? Man, you done made your bones.”

Christopher sat low in his chair, legs splayed, arms folded, trying to look hard. “I earned that.”

“You know, you did. But I was trying to be all clever, you know, make your bones. See, I could have a future as a rapper.”

“Well, you’ve got flow,” said Diana from where she stood by the window.

“And we’ve got bones. Whose bones they are, we think is that they belong to Thirty Ought. Right height and build, but we don’t have dental records, because he never really went to the dentist. Except the kind what makes gold teeth, and they don’t really keep the sort of records we need. The kind of records you want, Christopher. And I’m just going to take a wild guess here and say that Big Daddy not only offered you a spot on stage the other day with Shawty G, in return for using your grandmother’s car to help them move Thirty Ought’s body from out there in Midtown to the garden of the house next door, but he also dangled some kind of record deal in front of you if you’d keep your mouth shut.” Mustapha folded his arms, though he remained sitting up.

“I ain’t sayin’ nothing,” said Christopher, but he couldn’t meet Mustapha’s gaze for long.

“Christopher is a boy with a future,” said his grandmother from beside him.

“In jail,” said Mustapha.

Christopher shrugged. “Don’t matter. I’ll get out. And the whole time in, I’ll be rhyming.”

“And Big Daddy will be there for you, setting up your career? That’s what he told you, right? He and that Shawty G kid told you they needed a ride up to Midtown, and if you kept shut, he’d jump-start you. Even let you get up on stage Saturday afternoon and do your thing. Which, we saw the video.”

Diana said, “Stay in school.”

“Now, Detective, give the boy a chance. He’s young. He’s got stars in his eyes. So many that he can’t see the truth.”

A long silence. Then the grandmother said, “What have you done, boy?”

Mustapha said, “Not that much, really. He drove those clowns up to Midtown, so Big Daddy could dig up the body, and then he helped rebury it. In the garden next door. Did y’all know the New Pirate Mafia corporation owns that whole row of homes? Once the Beltline is finished, they’re going to make out like bandits, flipping those houses. Chris here is eighteen, so he’ll do time, but not much, even if he doesn’t talk. There goes college.”

“Don’t need it,” said Christopher.

Diana pulled up a chair and sat down. “We get it, Chris: you’re doing what makes sense to you, with the information you have. Big Daddy probably told you the body you moved was some gangbanger who did the New Pirate Mafia wrong. He just needed help: you help him, he puts you on stage when you get out. Just like Shawty G.”

“But you don’t have all the information,” said Mustapha. “And we’re trying to help you—believe it or not, we really are. Not because we’re nice people and we want to save a young man from getting bamboozled into throwing his life away. We’re not those kind of cops. It’s because we really want to nail that murderous prick Big Daddy.”

Diana said, “Right now, you think it’s in your best interest to protect him. But snitching is really in your best interest. And we can prove it. You think you’re getting a shot at the big time if you keep shot. But you already are big-time. You see, the guy we just dug up was Thirty Ought. Old bullet wounds prove it.”

“Gold teeth, too.”

“Yep. So now, you have to ask yourself, why would Big Daddy know where his partner in crime was buried? Yeah, that does make you wonder, doesn’t it? But Big Daddy’s still alive, even if he killed his husband,”

“His husband?” gasped the grandmother. “Lord.”

Mustapha said, “And he can help you, and Thirty Ought can’t.”

Diana said, “At least, that’s what you think. See, Thirty Ought had a will. Missing and buried in Midtown, Big Daddy is the sole proprietor of New Pirate Mafia; declared dead, Thirty Ought’s share goes to your own dad.”

“Which means you, since your dad’s gone,” said Mustapha. “You think you’re getting a shot at being a bit player in the New New Pirate Mafia. But you’re half of it, son. It’s already yours.”

Diana said, “And if you help us put Big Daddy away, it’s all yours. You own that Shawty G kid. All the records. All your grandfather’s electro-funk stuff, which by the way I’ve been listening to all day and is one hundred percent awesome. You can cut your own records, or you can sit around and count your money. You see, Big Daddy can’t profit from his crime: you help us put him away for moving the body, we can get him for murder. It’s all yours.”

Another long silence. Then Christopher said, “And if I don’t snitch, it’s still half mine.”

“That’s right. But you’ll be in jail; and you probably think you can do three or four years. And you might could, if you were by yourself. But you need to ask yourself: with Big Daddy out there, how long are you going to stay alive in jail?”

The grandmother cleared her throat. “Before Christopher says anything, I’m going to call my minister. We need to get us a lawyer, and you’ll need to show us all the papers.”

Mustapha said, “That is no problem, ma’am. The lawyer will tell you it’s all true. Chris, you need to listen to your grandmother. She’s a way better role model than ol’ Big Daddy.”

It’s never about rhymes; it’s always about money. Christopher owns half of Big Daddy, and here he is committing small-time crimes in order to get a tiny percentage of that. The “stop snitching” culture is loathsome, though there’s a sense in which it makes sense in the context of ghettos under siege. But that ethic only goes so far.

The Mothership Connection (9)

Parts 1, 234567 and 8 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. They confront BDJ in a club and he explains that he and Thirty Ought got married for medical insurance: Thirty Ought had multiple sclerosis. Now, let’s shift gears:

The distinguished Southern gentleman looked around to see if anyone else was looking before kicking his ball out of the rough. “Don’t tell nobody.”

Diana said, “My lips are sealed, Your Honor.”

“Now you confuse me with all these names. Big Daddy Jay, Thirty Ought, Shawty G: why is it these rap people can’t stick with the names their parents gave them?” He lined up his shot, took a practice swing.

“Some of these guys are real gangsters, Judge Hawthorne. It’s just part of the tradition. Others just want to look or sound like gangsters.”

“Well, it’s darned confusing. I’m going to need the five wood, sugar.”

“Mmm. Of course, Your Honor.” She took the three iron from him, looked at the sock Muppets that covered the woods. Elmo was the three; the five was Cookie Monster. “Here you go. But the story itself is simple: one guy killed the other and reburied him in the backyard of this abandoned house, because with the second guy missing, the first guy retains control of the estate. It’s just about money.”

“And you say these fellows were married? I always thought one of the few points these rap people had in their favor was that they didn’t tolerate homosexuals.”

Diana waited for him to take his practice swing before responding. “We’re thinking it might really have been for health insurance. The second guy did get treatment for multiple sclerosis before he disappeared.”

“Hmph. How do you know he’s in this garden?”

“We don’t know for sure that it’s Thirty Ought. But the house backs up onto what’s going to be the Beltline one day. Inspector Alawi and I took a stroll on it, enjoyed the beautiful spring weather. One of the K-9 officers went with us and, well, the dog got away for a moment and he entered the backyard, alerted on the garden. There’s definitely someone buried there.”

Another practice swing. “Neighborhood like that, there’s probably a corpse in every garden.”

“But we’ve got…”

“Yes, I see. An empty grave and a fresh one. Now hush.” Two more practice swings, then a long wait while he lined up the shot, tensed, swung back, stopped, let the club relax, lined up again, then an even longer pause. Diana tried very hard not to think about shouting “Cookie,” or throwing the sock at him. Another false start, then the real swing. The ball took off in a long, low arc, straight for the flag, then bounced once, then several more times, coming to rest just on the lip of the green.

“Well,” said Hawthorne. “Fancy that. Looks like you are a good luck charm, Detective. I’ll sign your warrant.” He tossed the club back to her without looking, then began to walk. “Carry the clubs up to the green, now; there’s a dear.”

What an asshole. One of the constants in the fiction that I write is that while murder is committed for one of four or five clearly-defined reasons, real evil is generally committed by the sort of men who are accustomed to cheating at golf. Diana, who grew up rich and with a powerful father who made every effort not to be corrupt, consistently has problems with guys like Hawthorne, though she knows full well they never commit the sort of crimes that get you life in prison. And as long as he gets his ego stroked by treating an attractive woman as a servant, she’ll help him out.

The Mothership Connection (8)

Parts 1, 23456 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.