Macktown Intro Excerpt
Grandma's house shoes lazily scraped across the project apartment's glossy cement floor. She exited the kitchen turning out the light and reached for the lamp on the end table. The sun was nearly down and she was headed for bed. She stopped in mid moment and listened, glaring over her eyeglasses toward the front door. Two gunshots rang out from outside and she heard footsteps pounding toward the porch. The screen door flung open and her daughter, Lucy, stumbled in with little six-year old Humphrey in one arm and the other arm holding the door open. Another gunshot and her husband, Steven, growled in pain as he stumbled into the apartment holding the back of his leg. Grandma caught Lucy's eyes in a stare then Lucy kissed Humphrey on the cheek, dropped him in the queen-ann armchair and headed toward the back door in the kitchen. Steven followed stumbling after her. Grandma kneeled to the floor after a brick came through the window. She heard the backdoor squeak open and then a crowd of footsteps going around the side of the building. Lucy ran screaming through the darkening projects with her husband hobbling behind her. Maneuvering their way through buildings they ran toward the railroad tracks behind the projects. Looking back they could barely see eight or 9 figures following. Two more gunshots and Steven yelled out.
She stopped running and looked back. When she saw Steven on the ground she stood in shock for a moment and screamed his name. Another gunshot killed Steven and she resumed the run for her life. Tears streamed from her fear-gripped face then her hands surrendered as two gunshots pounded her back and head. She dropped over the railroad track and hit the ground with a thud. Three of the guys walked toward her body and stood over it. One smiled and said, "You won't fuck with Yancy no more." And he put one more bullet in her head.
It was 1962 when they were killed. Lucibelle "Lucy" and Steven "Daddy" Lawson were a Macktown gangster couple on the run. Yancy just happened to be the one that caught up to them. They were deep in the illegal underworld. They knew too much, they profited too much, and they had too much power. Little Humphrey witnessed and absorbed the gangster life daily as they lugged him along through the ghetto mire. The ghettos and criminal rackets of Macktown were many and for years the Lawson's had a handle on them all one way or another. They were natives of the Perry Projects housing complex centered inside the Perryville community of Macktown's east side, but their empire stretched well beyond that and into the south side. Assisted by their ghetto accomplices, Shank Mills and his woman, Darlene "Darling" Miller, the criminal duo hustled a path clear through the streets and into the corrupted offices of city hall. When they got too close to the real deal of the affairs of the politicians and their underworld involvement, someone had to be silenced or eliminated. When the Lawson's refused to bow to the egos of the corrupt politicians, they were eliminated, which forced their accomplices to bow under the guns of government and instead accept a silent deal they were offered. That deal was to assist the elected officials in remaining elected and supported by the south side community and all underworld activities would be ignored, within reason.
The people of the south side were a rebellious people when election time came around. They were a working-class people with a collective mind-set that many times opposed government, thus they were the hardest people to win over when election time rolled around. The Jackville Stockyards, which was Macktown's largest source of revenue, supported two generations of the Jackville Community. On the deep south-side of the city touching the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, the stockyards redistributed the coal it received from regional coal mine shipments to cities along the eastern seaboard. Coastal winds blew the smoke from the stockyards throughout the city, stained the buildings of Macktown and tainted the air with a brown-like haze for miles. The production area of the stockyards covered a three mile area of land and another two miles stretched out the train yards. Jackville Drive divided the stockyards from the neighboring blue-collar community that stretched up from Jackville Drive to Villy Boulevard, about twenty miles north. The farther north traveled, the better the neighborhoods and schools. The residents of the Jackville Community Organization, the JCO, held it together for many years, fighting off drugs, gangs, street hustling and corruption; and most of all the strong arm of government control; fighting against poverty, unemployment and government-funded services.
Steven "Daddy" Lawson was the father of the Jackville community and Lucy was the first lady. They worked in cahoots with the JCO to maintain order on the south side. While the JCO fought against government control, Lawson, and his organized crime ring, the Lawson Boys, protected the borders of the underworld from other, gangland intruders. Though the south side was divided in class and principle, they held together as one and were a force that was hard to penetrate. There were three types of people that made up the residency of Jackville; the educated class, the working class, and the church community, but the Lawson Boys were feared and respected by all. They were feared because they ran a notorious drug dealing operation that sold a highly addictive drug called Nico. Nico was the drug of choice in Macktown during that era. It was rolled and smoked like a cigarette and sold in small packs like cigarettes. It became popular when cigarettes were banned in Macktown in 1945 after a bad shipment containing a poisonous substance tainted the nicotine and infected and killed one-third of the city's population. Within five years, bootleggers sprang up and began selling processed cigarettes made from dried out banana and orange peels, called Nico. However, nicotine was not an active ingredient, but an hallucinate substance laced the Nico joints and people got real high, real slow. By 1951 the city was hooked, from the street corners to the office buildings, and the Nico dealing game became seriously competitive and more violent.
The Lawson Boys were also involved in the other illegal underworld activities of Macktown such as taking illegal bets on the dog races, which was a beloved pastime of the city residences, and also taking bets on the dog fighting racket, which was an illegal pastime of the city. Many of the south side community disapproved of the Lawson Boy's illegal involvement but respected them because the Lawson Boys looked out for and did a lot for the community. They pushed the educated members of the community into political office by funding their campaigns and by walking the streets spreading the militant speech against common politics, collecting donations and organizing fundraisers. They sold food, washed cars and started a little league team in the community, and most, but not all, of the community backed them. They personalized themselves with the working class of the community because they appealed to their beer guzzling, barbecue eating, softball playing mentalities as the common folk. And even though the church community protested the Lawson Boys, even some of them were sneaky enough to accept funding from their generous and seductive offers. The Lawsons also opened up a few night clubs on the south side, where the common folk, along with the inconspicuous political leaders and even the hypocrites of the church, would come to unleash their tensions. All in all, there was a love/hate relationship between the Lawson Boys and the Jackville community.
After the Lawsons were killed, Shank took the reins of the south side. However, the organization came to a temporary slowdown and suspicions ran crazy. For nearly six months, Shank and the other Lawson associates searched out their assailant but with no success. Shank had a feeling someone in a high position knew something, but he could not prove it, yet he knew that sooner or later somebody would be stupid enough to slip; so he laid low. After a few years, a new face began to emerge on the streets, in the clubs and at those political parties: a real shady face, one that Shank would catch glancing at him with an evil, greedy smile; one that many fingers were beginning to point to in admiration and envy. The face was gaining recognition and respect; smiling bigger and darker, and money was moving his way. Shank decided to investigate, and his investigation led him into the knowledge of a conspiracy to rid Macktown of the Lawson Boy organization all together. It also led him into a darker territory and tighter situations that became hazardous, which eventually pushed he, and his woman into the shadows of hiding.
Ten years later, Humphrey sat in the same queen-ann armchair listening to Grandma fussing about him going to school. His facial expression seemed as if it had never changed. It was serious, blank, and angry. He was sixteen years old and a product of the Perry Projects ghetto. He went to school sometimes and other times he ran the streets of Perryville. He had made a name for himself throughout the projects and on the entire east side. A thug name. A banger. He had a reputation to maintain and little patience for pettiness. Hump had plans though, plans to expand see. On this day, word had just got to him about the murder of his ghetto mentor, Shank Mills, and now his plan was about to go into effect. It was getting dark which meant it was time to do his thing. He got up and walked out the door deaf to Grandma's fussing.
Nine-thirty that evening and the phones were still ringing with the murder of Shank Mills. The remaining members of the Lawson Boys spread the word fast throughout Jackville and community members contacted the Mack Times newspaper. Sitting up in bed, Foster Friend, lead editor for the Mack Times, slammed the phone down then picked it up again and started dialing. The slam startled his wife.
"What's going on baby?" she mumbled from under the blanket.
"Mills was killed." Foster muffled out then he spoke into the phone. His wife sat up running her fingers over her hair.
"Shank Mills?" her voice in surprise.
"Matt, meet me at the office in twenty minutes." He sat up ruffling for his pants on the floor. "Just meet me there!" he shouted and slammed the phone down again.
"Shank got killed? Who did it? When?" his wife asked with concern.
"Who knows. It could have been anybody. I'm going down to the office. If anyone else call, tell'em where I'm at." He said throwing his shirt over his back and sliding into his shoes. He left the room and his wife reached over to the phone and began dialing. She was calling her girlfriend in Jackville to verify this juicy bit of information.
Dinner was served at the West's house. Friday night was usually takeout night; some fried chicken, pizza, or Chinese. Tonight it was pizza since Bobby got paid.
"I need ice in my cup." Robert Junior, who was called RJ, said holding his cup in the air. Six years old with a small round head that matched his father's. Bobby took his cup and drove it into the ice bucket in the freezer scooping up a cup full. He took another and scooped more then placed the two cups in the table, one in front of RJ, and the other in front of Nikki, his 11 year-old sister.
Jennifer sat opposite her husband Bobby and began portioning out slices of pizza. RJ reached out and knocked over his cup and the ice dropped to the floor. He looked up with an anxious look at his father.
"Good thing I didn't pour the pop first." Jennifer said as she bent and began picking up the ice. Then she went toward the freezer to refill RJ's cup. Returning, she smiled at Bobby before sitting down. Her teeth were straight and white and her smile was long, stretching across her thin, brown face. Small hoop earrings dangled from under her four-inch afro. She was thin, almost boney, and generally in a good mood. "Be careful this time RJ." she said.
Bobby and RJ were dark with short afros parted on one side. Nikki took after her mother, thin with a long smile.
"I'm gonna be on the radio starting next week." Bobby said in an excited voice accented for the kids.
"Ooh, can I be on the radio with you?" RJ blurted out.
"No." his mother declared. RJ's face went sour for a moment.
"What are you going to talk about daddy?" Nikki asked.
"Teaching people about the Bible, and God," Bobby answered.
"What else are you gonna talk about?" She rebutted.
"That's it. That's all anyone needs to learn about." He said and cut his eyes toward Jennifer. She cut hers back at him and grinned.
"What?" She smiled.
"You wanna be on with me?"
"I might." She said and bit into her pizza.
The doorbell rang. Bobby left the kitchen and opened the door to see his partner in ministry Rico. Rico motioned him out on the porch to tell him about the death of their Pastor's brother, Shank Mills.
Humphrey was now a teenager that no one could, or even tried to reach. The projects were embedded in his heart, soul, and mind. The mentality, the bitterness, the hopelessness, all fumed from his voice and actions. He cared for no one but his grandmother, but he never, ever showed it and no one would ever know it. The last tear that fell from Humphrey's eye was on the day of his parent's funerals. He vowed to never allow himself to feel that much pain and he has not shown emotion since. His enemies suffered many times. He would harass them day after day until they ran to the authorities or just dropped to their knees and begged him to leave them alone. Humphrey was mean. His heart was hard and his conscience was non-existent. He never, ever laughed, always as serious as a trail of ants, never having fun, always business. He did not have time for girls; he just used them; he would only look them up and down then say something to make them look at themselves. He also threw rocks at them when they walked by, so now all the girls crossed the street when they see Humphrey coming in the distance.
He feared no one, not a punk-type gangster so-called nowhere in Perryville. He had no respect for the authorities, always cussing at them when they drove by knowing they could do nothing to him, as far as he was concerned, he was talking to someone down the street, not at them. Maybe then and only then would you see a tight grin on Humphrey's face. Rebellion shaped him and out of the dust of his anger and the ashes of the projects, Humphrey formed a gang of cut-throats and bangers he called the Perry Project Pips. He was like a young, ghetto father figure to many of the boys his own age, and even some older. His words were firm and direct. Anytime he had to check one of his boys, he would stand an inch from their face wolfing words at them, daring them to turn away. He was the boss; the top dog; the terror of Perryville, king of the projects; Humphrey Lawson, alias, Hump. Five-foot-eight, small afro, dark skin, deep set eyes under thick brows, hook nose, thin lips, slight muscular built; walked with a pimp, talked with a scratch, stared with a hate. Watched by the police, hated by the community, dangerous, fearfully respected by the other east side gangs; dirty, scandalous, and a bully. He also had a way with the older crowd, approaching them without a front or an act, but with the everyday Hump Lawson style, straight-forwardness. With this style, Hump was taken under the wing of Shank Mills. Shank trusted Hump and used him for the Nico drop game, sending him on runs and errands, making drops and pick-ups. Shank never told Hump he knew his parents because he did not want him exposed to any past enemies. So he kept an eye on Hump by keeping him off the south side and confining him to the east side. Shank paid Hump well and Hump invested his money in selling weed and Nico. He had at least half of the Pips on his payroll and he was pocketing a couple of hundred a day from profits. There were about five weed houses in Perry Projects that were all controlled by Hump and the Pips, although there were numerous weed houses throughout Perryville run by other dealers, Hump was the only one who sold both weed and Nico on the entire east side.
The east side; a bit ragged and run down. Ruined by many vacant buildings that were abandoned by affluent businesses which moved northward a few years after the Vietnam War. Empty train-yards spread throughout the east side from downtown out to the north side and were an eyesore to many who passed through. The east side was divided into three sections: Rosa Parks Drive, Uptown Macktown, and Perryville. At one time, Perryville's main source of income and employment was Plenty's Department Store, but it packed up after the riots of 67 and moved northward taking the middle class and its' income with it. The soldiers returning from the war found it difficult to provide for their families. Before the war, most men of Perryville worked in the train yards, on the truck docks or as janitors and in the warehouse at Plenty's; the women, who cleaned the floors and reared the children of the wealthy women in the area, also found it difficult to provide for their fatherless children once the wealthy families moved away. Heroine and other drugs made their way from Vietnam and pushed into the veins of Perryville. Unfortunately, the American dream to be gotten by the starving minds of Macktown was being replaced by a grim vision of a unified reality; that of junkies, broken families, neglected homes and graffiti-stained buildings.
The bricks of the buildings in Perryville were a smoky brown; a dull haze all around that mixed with the ever-changing smoke cycles that blew in from the south side's Jackville Stockyards. The sky was not very blue in Perryville; it was brown in the eyes and minds of many. Most of the trees (which were not many) were dying or dead, giving the neighborhood a matching shade of dark brown. The streets were a gloomy gray, pitted with potholes and puzzled with cracks. The mentality was moody just like the scenery, gray, with a mixture of many browns. Walking up the main street of Perryville - East Lester Avenue - you could see the mood, feel the mood, and you would shiver because of the mood. Bitterness with a smile of deception, anger suppressed so deeply only to make any soul wonder why. The children of Perryville carried this mood without an inkling of the possibility that success and happiness even existed. Success in Perryville came once in a while, but it was a dark shade of gray, almost black. The money was shady money; unlawful money. It moved around the community touching almost every hand, passing into another, and never left the hood.
The easiest and fastest way to move through Perryville was on the one freeway that towered above the neighborhood. The Jackson Freeway was a freeway that stood on columns. It began as a tunnel downtown then emerged level to the ground and then up upon the columns. It ran south to north dividing the east side from the rest of the city. As it rose above Perryville, below the columns were Perry Projects, made up of fifty-two buildings with eight living units apiece. Stretching along East Lester Avenue for almost a mile then reaching as far back as a quarter mile, it was literally a world within itself; with its own laws of human nature and survival; its own judicial system based on vengeance; and its own source of income supplied by the underworld. Its mood too, was gray with a mixture of dark browns, hazy gray, smoky brown, but darker than the rest of Perryville. As time moved pass, the mentality would get harsher, meaner. The smiles were more deceiving, and the money was tainted from the illegal activities of the ghetto. Instead of a department store or factory as a source of income, Perry Projects supplied the area with its income and its dream. Yet, through all of the despair in Perryville, and its project father figure, it was possessed with something overlooked by society. Something they thought they had destroyed with their attempt at isolation and prejudice, with their handouts and liberal distributions of dependency. Unseen and unheard by their indifferent eyes and sealed ears was something among the community of Perryville called a common bond, a combined accord. Something felt and naturally expressed by every resident, old and young, understood only by themselves; and though they were ignored by officials and emptied into the ghetto, Perryville was the fear of the city, but for the souls living there, it was a sanctuary.
It was an angry moon that night. The eeriness of Perryville was thick, as if something was going to happen, or just did. On the corner of East Lester Avenue and Drew Street was Benny's Burger Palace, a greasy burger joint occupied with about twenty or so neighborhood thugs, hanging around out front and on the inside. They pushed up on and whispered to the girls, who sauntered about in bell-bottoms and halter-tops styling large, round afros and dangling hoop earrings. The music played loud from the jukebox in the corner and smoke filled the room. Outside, under the dim light of the street post on the corner, the motion of thin shadows moved slow; beer bottles being lifted to mouths, and big-brim Bossalini hats lined the top of the shadows. Their voices were loud with laughter, some deep, some giddy, and some of the bodies moved to the beat of the music.
Among the crowd were Calvin Paul and his brother Curtis Paul, top dogs of the neighborhood street gang called the Lester Boys, along with a few other crew members, their lady clique, and members of the rival gang in the hood, the Drew Street Pimps. This was not wartime so there was no banging, even though, there were words exchanged and threats made, but neither gang had any real reason to throw blows. Benny's was not the only spot these two gangs had in common. They also attended Dutchison High School together, the classrooms, and the football team. Sometimes they both hung out in Valentine Park, which was across the street, and both gangs would roam the entire topside of the Perryville neighborhood. However, their territories were divided into two sections. The Lester Boys claimed everything on the east side of Drew and the Pimps claimed everything on the west side. Yet, both their hoods were on the north side of Lester Avenue; everything on the south side of Lester Avenue belonged to the Perry Project Pips, and the Pips shared nothing.
Calvin Paul was 17 and his brother Curtis was 16. Calvin was tall, about six feet; slim, dirty brown hair (which gave him his street name, Dirty Paul). It was straight, combed to the back and matched his thick eyebrows. His two front teeth were visible always beneath his thick top lip. Curtis favored Calvin in both size, tall and slim, and in the teeth aspect, but his hair was short and nappy under the jean cap he wore every day. Their number one sidekick was Kevin Lee Pearson. Kevin Lee was a big boy for 17. He played for the Dutchison High football team, offense and defense, at 215 pounds, 6 feet 2 and muscle bound like a buffalo. His head was hard as a rock and his mouth was loud, full of rowdy words. Kevin Lee was the Dutchison High idol of his peers and ace-boon to the Paul brothers, which put him second in command, known in the hood, and feared. The Lester Boys were not a large crew, maybe about ten to fifteen strong, yet they were stone street fighters. They held down their territory pretty well, fighting off all unwanted visitors who thought they could just walk up North Lester or around Dutchison anytime they wanted. Kevin Lee owned a fire red 1968 Duster that he and Calvin and a few others rode around in patrolling the hood and invading others. At one time there were nearly five street gangs that walked Perryville, including the Drew Street Pimps, but Calvin would go to the backyard parties in other hoods and start a fight and eventually take over. He was now working on the Drew Street Pimps, trying to win over their members by way of fronting off their leader, Clay Barns, every chance he got. But as far as Humphrey Lawson and the Pips was concerned, that was another story and strategy that Calvin would have to ponder seriously. Arch rivals from the third grade, he and Humphrey hated each other and fought heads up frequently. This was a main attraction after school, when Hump went to school. Often, the two shot dice together in the boy's bathroom and other times the two sat in the principal's office together in order to work this gang thing out. The two even joined forces one time before when the Rosa Park Players (another east side gang) called themselves bum rushing the Dutchison High - Rosa Parks football game. The common bond was strong in Perryville, nevertheless, it was time this bond be broken and rebuilt with only one top dog. This was the objective in the mind of Humphrey as he and his crew of cut-throats marched real thug like up to Benny's. There were over thirty Perry Boys carrying bats, bottles, bricks, sticks and knives, with hostility shaping their faces, fervor in their walk, and their boss at the front line.