New York State Senator Malcolm Robinson sat in his cushioned leather upholstered chair at his mahogany desk in his office on the 13th floor of the State Office building in hollerin’ distance of the Apollo theater down the block. He looked down at the Studio Museum in Harlem and thought about his college days as he swiveled around to look at his fraternity brother, Gideon Haughton.
The two had pledged together and were roommates for a summer session when neither could afford to go home. Gideon worked in the cafeteria that summer and kept them both fed with leftovers, he had kept a steady flow of women with cars and girlfriends to get the two of them through the long nights and weekends. They had been fans of Miami Vice and came up with the nicknames Crotchit & Grubs, that evolved into Pimp and Buffet, with mean-spirited undertones as Malcolm’s political influence spread as much as Gideon’s waistline.
“You’re asking me to commit political suicide, Frat,” he said in that “can’t help ya,” tone of voice he put on every time Gideon came hat in hand. But this time it was different.
“This isn’t for me, it’s for you, Playa. I’m putting you down with something you need this time, and yeah, I need something out of it too, but I guarantee it will be you thanking me in the long run.”
Gideon felt his temper start to slip when Malcolm dropped his chin and gave him that skeptical and condescending look he was good for. “With your pompous ass,” he thought as he looked at his old friend. “This political bullshit has gone straight to your nappy head.”
Malcolm did his spider on the mirror thing with his fingers, something he had done for as long as Gideon had known him, and pursed his lips before smacking them loudly. Then he launched into his usual condescending Pontifications.
“Do you know who the one person you don’t want to piss of in Harlem is, Man? The Black Church —”
“Uh, technically not a person. Let me stop you right there, Bro. I’m not here to ask you for this shit, okay? I’m here to tell you why you’re gonna want to do it. You know where Amy Ruth’s is?”
Malcolm just stared at his college buddy. He was not used to this type of dynamic with anyone from back in the day. Since getting elected, he was used to people falling all over themselves to kiss his ass. Gideon wasn’t giving him audience as usual. That alone made the State Senator curious. “This is my district and you’re gonna ask if I know where a landmark restaurant is?”
“Five Thirty. Block off a couple of hours in your Day Timer, I know you still keep one with your anal-retentive ass. Peace,” he said as he stood, turned, and walked toward the door. As he opened it, Gideon turned to see his fraternity brother massaging his temples, his jaw was tight. Gideon smiled and left.
“I can help you forget,” Cookie Vasquez said softly.”
“Have you ever heard it said that pain is a message to the body?”
“I have. That it is an indication something is wrong, and that one would do well to pay attention to it. But, if you are suggesting the same holds true of the pain of one’s heart, I will tell you that I think the comparison falls flat.”
Gideon looked Cookie in the eye for a moment, and then looked away. He crumpled a piece of paper he had been holding and dropped it to the floor before turning on his heel and walking down 125th street. “Get outta my head.”
“Is it a sort of penance then, Mr. Haughton? You hold on to the memory of her for the purpose of self flagellation? I think there is some guilt there that you are not ready to accept and the anguish is a means of assuaging it. That’s what I think.”
He said nothing as he walked, but reached into the breast pocket of his double breasted Joseph Aboud, and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. As he walked along 125th street to the number 2 subway station, he surreptitiously eyed the crowd milling back and forth on the sidewalks and across the street. Occasionally he would glance in the window of a shop over his shoulder to look behind him.
“You’re not going to light that God-awful thing are you? Surely in this day and age, you are aware of their toxicity, carcinogens, etc., the dangers, and not just to yourself. Put it away, please. The last think I want is to survive this mission only to die of cancer from second-hand smoke.”
Gideon stopped and licked his lips before he put a cigarette between them. He bowed his head slightly and cupped the lighter. He took a long pull with his eyes closed and then opened his mouth, the smoke floated out, bathing his face, as he appeared to savor the sensation and smiled.
“These are Turkish Ovals, Hermana. Pure tobacco, not the rat shit, formaldehyde, every-poison-under-the-kitchen-sink variety of American cigarette you are confusing it with. Besides, Kai gave them to me, they’re an enchanted smoke screen. This will mask our movements from surveillance, be it scrying or a tail. That was either FBI or Homeland back there, I can smell ‘em. Not to mention he looked as out of place as a tourist. Come on.”
Cookie was a bit taken aback. She had taken the reporter’s non-village status at face value, and assumed he was incompetent. That sort of lackadaisical attitude toward an adversary could ruin a mission, toward a colleague, it could get them both killed. She hurried her steps and caught up with him.
“Sorry. I assumed —”
“Yes, you did.”
Her eyes narrowed and she pursed her lips. She continued her own counter-surveillance techniques and was sure they were safe.
“I said I was sorry. Where are we going?”
As he jogged down the steps to the train, and did his best to hide his smile. Gideon liked the woman, he wouldn’t condescend to think of her as having spunk, but whatever the non-sexist version of that sentiment was, he gave her that.
“The Navy yard in Brooklyn. Let me ask you something. What would it look like, for lack of a better term, maybe feel like is more accurate; what would it feel like if magic was being used to mask something?”
The train was just about to shut its doors as Cookie passed through the turnstile. Gideon’s Metrocard didn’t work the first time, and instead of waiting, she ran to hold the door of the train. It didn’t work the second time. She shook her head, and stepped off the # 2 Seventh Avenue Express when the Conductor admonished her. “Please let go of the doors,” blasted over the loudspeaker of the train and reverberated in the great acoustics of the underground station.
She let the doors go and walked back toward him in exaggerated slowness just as he was holding the card up to his nose. Her head was tilted to the side and she was biting her lip, forehead creased as her eyebrows arched. “Had you eyes examined lately,” she asked a bit smartassedly.
“I need to have my head examined,” he thought as he patted and reached into several pockets, his face flushed. “ Eh, wrong card.”
M. Zane McClellan
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