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by Hal Ellson
Category: Mystery/Crime/True Crime
Description: He ran a Harlem Brothel and age 15. Girls, to Duke, meant cash before pleasure. In his vice-ridden world they rated lower than liquor or marijuana. He ran his gang of teenage hoodlums with fists, feet and a gun. His operations included rape, murder, pimping and smuggling dope. He made his own law. And his code was the savage code of the slum-jungle that was the only home he knew. This novel is shocking--and true. It is the day-to-day story of the life of a teen age Harlem gang boss. It is grim and brutal, sometimes almost unbelievable. If you are squeamish, or if you prefer to ignore a dangerous social condition which even now is almost out of control, this novel is not for you.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: March 2012
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [195 KB]
Reading time: 142-200 min.
It was hot. I didn't have nothing to do. I was hanging around the house, sort of laying low because it was that way. We'd all gotten in trouble again and the neighborhood was full of nabs, and plainclothes guys were hanging around. I just had to look once at the guys without the uniforms and I knew them a mile. They all look alike, got that way about them and they can't really hide it.
So far as I knew they didn't pick up any of my boys. Everybody was laying low and quiet, and now it was three days after the rumble with that other club. We gave it to them bad this time. It was in the paper the day after. They had the names of our clubs and the boy who was shot and that was all. They didn't have my name and nothing on me and nobody could prove a thing if anybody did squeal.
I was starting to get restless hanging around the house. I didn't like staying in with the old man and the old lady out working and nobody home at all. Finally, I had to get out. Hell, nobody had anything on me and, anyway, things were quiet like any other time. So I slicked up, put on my new stingy brim and went downstairs and breathed deep.
Then I went down the block. Everything looked all right. Nothing was wrong. I tipped my hat to a lady. "Where you been staying, Duke," she said, and I guess she knew something cause she laughed. I didn't stop to talk. I didn't have time. I just said, "I been out to Hollywood and back."
Then right near the corner this man is standing. In a doorway. Casual-like. He's got his hands in his pocket and a butt pasted in his mouth and he's like looking at nothing at all and trying to see everything at the same time.
Right away I know. Right away my belly goes tight. I never saw him before but right away I know him even if he was two miles away. Evil man, I say, don't look at me. But I know he's looking at me. He sees me, but he don't move. He don't do nothing and I don't want to look at him but I got to. I can't help myself. He looks like he just got a shave and his eyes is like glass with no color in them, empty-like, with nothing in back of them, but I know who he is and he looks at me up and down and inside out. It's like getting a pat down with the eyes, a frisk.
And all the time he's making believe he ain't looking at nothing. But I ain't afraid. I'm packing no joint. I got something else, though, but I know he ain't looking for that. He's just maybe waiting for trouble to bust out again.
I go past him and I know he ain't moved but he's still watching. I can feel his eyes turn. He can't fool me. None of them can. They all look the same. They got that look. I don't know how to say it. It's just something you get to know.
Going around the corner I feel young again. I ain't got that feeling in my belly no more, not so much anyhow. I'm a feather now. That evil man don't want me, I say. He's just wasting his time hanging around here. There ain't going to be no more rumbling or trouble unless I give the word, and I ain't in the mood. My boys don't rumble 'less I say so and we got no dates with any foreign clubs.
But I'm low in the dough. No moolah, and that's bad. Since I'm used to it I got to have it.
That's why I was saving the bombers. I smoked all the sticks in them three days when nobody was home and aired the rooms out so nobody coming home would smell the stuff cause it's got a smell everybody knows. I just got a little high and airy with the sticks and they made me feel better cause it was no good being alone in that house with myself.
I should have saved the sticks, too, but they're only two for a dollar. But you can get caught easy with them. They're skinny like lollypop sticks and if you're picked up you're gone fast. They got you. They're hep to small ones and look in the pack for them. Of course, I could have stuck them in my hair. They never look there for them when you get a pat down. I guess I just wanted them for myself to get goofed a little.
I was only carrying the bombers. The bombers are big. They're just like regular cigarettes, the same size, and, when you carry them, you mix them in with your Chesterfields so nobody knows any difference. I like the bombers but the sticks are all right too when you smoke them. You get the same feeling.
The stuff is all right. You hit a stick and you're gay. You ain't a drag. You only get mad when you get beat stuff, stuff that's no good. If you don't know who to get it from they pull a lot of hypos on you. But I know where to get it. I got connections.
The first time I took it the other cats bugged me up. There's always a first time for everything. I got high. I liked it. I felt good. It wasn't habit forming like H or C. I can go days without it. That's the way I dig it. I do it nice. Play it cool. I don't blow my top like other cats and go out and rob to get the stuff. But H and C, I'm scared of that stuff.
The first time I got high I got hung up right away. I kept quiet. I went to the show. I knew myself. I was hep to everything. I dug that picture. I was walking down the stairs. They were clouds. You don't want to be around trouble. You don't dig none of that. If everybody got high and got in a good kick the world would be a better place.
You get all hung up when you're talking. You're digging the cat, searching, looking around. You talk about a lot of things if you're with somebody. You can remember everything. You're suddenly brilliant. Nobody can put nothing on you.
But M or C or H is bad. C is really bad. You take that?and get punched and you feel nothing. Some guys rub it on their teeth and gums. It makes your mouth feel numb. A lot of guys chew coke. Once you really chew coke it will really stone you, petrify you. Nearly every guy that takes it is scared because of getting in the habit. That keeps the guy away from it.
Weed ain't. It's good, like when you go to a dance. It makes you feel gay. You ain't no drag.
No junkie can say he wasn't scared. You throw up the first time and feel dizzy. You goof off, feel tired, dopey. You start thinking about weird things. And you can tell it by the little holes in the arms. The police catch them and look at them. Some people spend thirty a day on it and can't afford it. They don't shave, don't dress and get to be wrecks. I'm afraid of that evil stuff. Me, I'll take weed and wear my eighteen dollar shoes.
Now I was carrying the bombers. Three ain't much but I needed the money. I had to have it. It ain't no good when your pockets are empty. You're just a punk without money. Nobody knows you. Nobody wants to know you.
So I went down the avenue. There was a bull on the next corner. He give me the eye but it didn't mean nothing. They always give you the eye anyhow, pat you down nice, looking for something. I walked under his nose and on down the avenue. I felt kind of gay. I had the bombers and I knew where to get rid of them. The war with that other club was over. Everything was quiet. I wanted it quiet for a while.
I went down the avenue to the Itch. That's a theatre. There's always a lot of cats hanging around there that hit the stuff. That's where I was going to get rid of the bombers.
I guess it was the heat. Nobody much was around, just a couple of cats I never did see before. But I had time so I lit up and waited. There was plenty of time and somebody'd be around.
I'd have a couple of bucks then. That would be enough. I started dreaming like, thinking of Gigi. Suppose I took Gigi into the Itch like I took the others? The others were easy, throwing themselves around me and all that. But Gigi. I could just dream about that. Nothing else. I know she liked me and she knew I liked her. We only ever talked, nothing else. We just talked. But her father found out and they moved away. I don't know where.
She was Spanish, and me, if I didn't have this skin, this nose, maybe everything would have been different. Only I can't forget her. That's the funny thing. I keep on seeing her face all the time. I see her looking at me. That's why I don't like staying in my room. In there it's worse. If I didn't have this skin. I don't know. I'm going to try to forget her.
I guess I was in the fog too long. Then I see this guy. He's across the street, like he come up out of the ground, and he ain't dressed like that other guy; he ain't his size or color or nothing but he's just like that other guy was standing in the doorway. He's got a different suit on and everything but I know him right away. He's got the look, and he's watching me.
So I just stand there. There ain't no use running or doing nothing else. But I know he's coming over. I can feel it the way he's looking at me and I kind of like know he knows I know it too and I got the feeling in my belly again like before only worse.
Well, he stands there just looking for a while like at really nothing at all. Then he comes toward me and I get tight inside.
First, he looks up and down the street like for that other guy or some of his friends. Maybe that other guy put him on me.
Then he crosses the street, slow-like, taking his time. He's like a cat with a mouse and I'm waiting for him. I got to look at him even if I don't want to. All the way across the street he's looking at me and when he reaches the curb I see his eyes. It's like there ain't nothing there. They're hard glass and empty so I feel I'm looking through them into nothing at all.
Then he comes almost up to me. He's right there. Big. Over six, and he looks mean and hard. He's white, and that's not so bad. The colored ones mess you up even more, your own kind.
But this ain't the first time. This guy don't know me and I ain't afraid, only I still got that feeling in my belly. He ain't got nothing on me about the rumble. He's looking for something else or he wouldn't be around here. It's like the other time when I was picked up by the flatfoot. I had nine sticks in my cuff and the cop said, Come over here, you bastard. He felt under my arms, my breastpocket, between my legs. You can tape the stuff under there, you know, or put it in your shoe in paper. I had it in my cuff. He didn't get it.
This guy looked me up and down. Then he said, "Come over here, you."
"What for?" I said.
"Don't what for me, come over here."
I came over. I knew what he was after.
We went into a vestibule.
"Take off your shoes," he said.
I looked at him. Then I took them off. He searched me. I was holding my breath when he looked at my cigarettes. "I don't fool around with that stuff," I said.
He looked at me then with them hard glassy eyes that had nothing in them. "Then what are you hanging around here for?" he said.
"I was waiting for a friend."
"You know what kind of friends hang around here, don't you?" he said. "You know what they smoke."
I looked up at him. Maybe I was grinning. Anyhow, I said, "Well, why don't you lock them up if they smoke them?"
Then he slapped me. I wanted to kill the son of a bitch but I had to take it. He slapped me again. Then he walked out.
When I put my shoes on and stepped out of the hallway he was nowhere in sight. He was gone.
A half hour later I got rid of the bombers and went to the show and saw Maureen O'Hara in "The Foxes of Harrow." It was a pretty good show.
It was still light out. It was too early to go home. Nobody would be there and I didn't want to go back, but there was no place else to go. I didn't want to meet any of my boys either. I wasn't in the mood. I didn't know what was the matter with me. Something was wrong, wrong for a long time now but I didn't want to admit it. I didn't want to believe some of the things that was happening to me.
I walked home slow. It was all right on the avenue, not so bad at all, and them plainclothes guys was gone. I figured they called them off.
I was feeling low, let down right after that picture. In there everything was all right. I didn't think of nothing. I forgot everything, but soon as I hit air everything got cockeyed all of a sudden. Then I hear like some one behind me, clearing his throat, following me, calling me Duke. It sounded a block away, though. This ain't the first time it's happened. It happened before but I don't believe in it because when it did and when I looked around nobody was there. I was scared. One time it made me run.
Sometimes it's clear. Sometimes I can hardly hear it, and there's nobody ever there. When I'm in the dark it's worse, but it happens every place. It's when I'm alone.
When I turned into my block there was nobody out. I could see all the houses, all the empty windows, all the garbage cans and stuff. I got away from it, I thought. I didn't hear it any more. Then I just got the feeling that somebody was following me again and I began to walk faster. I wanted to run but I didn't this time. I heard some one clear his throat. I got to the house and I didn't want to turn but I did.
No one was there. The whole block was empty, but it looked screwy-like, strange, like I didn't know it. I just stood there. Then I heard him call me like from far away. Duke, he said. Duke! I could just hear it. Then I ran into the house.
No one was home. The house seemed extra empty. I put on all the lights. I put on the radio. The thing was gone now, but I was still scared. It was crazy. I didn't want to believe in it, no more than in the other things that had happened.
I didn't go near my room. That was the worst place of all. I sat in the living room because it was in front of the house. When I lit a cigarette my hands shook. I had it bad.
I should have saved a bomber. If I'd had a bomber I'd have been all right in no time. I needed a lift. But maybe that was the trouble. Maybe I'd been smoking too much charge. But I never heard it do what was happening to me. Even at that I'd have smoked one.
The thing to do was to take it easy. I stretched out on the couch and smoked and listened to the music. For a minute I thought of going over to see Juan. I could get the stuff from him. It was too much trouble. Maybe he wouldn't be there. I didn't go. After a while I got all right.
I had another cigarette, closed my eyes and let myself down into the music. It was good stuff, the kind I like, all gone.
I must have been real tired because I fell asleep. The sleeping part was all right, but I had a dream about something that was like a big spider. Maybe it was because I'm afraid of spiders. But this wasn't any ordinary spider.
In the dream, first, I saw like a grey pearl on the floor, and then a long stick came out of it and on the end of that another grey pearl came that turned into a head. Then a lot of little legs and a couple of big ones and it went up straight and it came at me and I ran to my brother and he looked at it and it disappeared. That was when I woke up, sweating and scared.
The next minute I heard somebody on the stairs. I thought it was my brother but the steps went on up. Then the house was quiet again. I couldn't stay in it. I got up and went downstairs and lit a cigarette. It was dark then.
A little while later my brother came along. When I saw him I beat it upstairs.
Soon as I got upstairs I head for my room cause I know right away there's going to be trouble. I got my brother's jacket on again. I sort of like that jacket and he knows it.
Just as I get out of the jacket and hide it in the closet the door opens and my brother comes in. I see him look around but I don't pay him no mind. I figure maybe he don't know about it.
He don't say nothing and I don't say nothing, so I sit on the bed and light a cigarette. Then I offer him one, casual like. Then he says it. He says: "Where's my jacket?"
"Jacket? What jacket?" I said, and I guess that burned him cause I could see the look in his eyes.
"You know what jacket I'm talking about," he said. "I told you about it before too. I told you to stop wearing it."
"Hell, man, I don't know what you're talking about," I said. "Who wants to wear your punky jacket? I got clothes on my back. I don't need nothing of yours."
For a minute I thought maybe he was going to believe me, but he's my big brother and he knows me. You can lie to most anybody and get away with it but you can never lie to your big brother. He just looked at me and knowed I was lying. He could see it in my eyes and, even if he couldn't, he knowed nobody else would have that jacket but me.
"All right, where is it?" he said. "You better get it fast or maybe I'll forget myself."
"I don't know nothing about your punky jacket," I said.
He came toward me then, like he's going to slap me. I ain't afraid but he's too big for me. I know he can beat hell out of me. I'm ready for him anyhow but he goes to the closet and opens the door.
"What's this?" he said, turning around with the jacket in his hand.
I just looked at it innocent like and said to him, "Don't ask me how it got in there. I didn't wear it. I don't go for your kind of style."
I had a face on me like he might believe what I said, but there was something I forgot. I had on his tie, a nice green and yellow striper, and I see him eyeing me funny like. That's when I remembered but it was too late. "Take off my tie," he said. "Seeing as you don't like my kind of style. Take it off before I break your god-damn neck!"
I started to take off that tie then. I felt like ripping it off but I knowed what would happen if I did, so I went easy like and then all of a sudden he was at me. He got me by the shirt, got a fistful of me and started to shake me up. I wanted to let, him have it. I was going to belt him but I held back cause he could bust me in pieces if he wanted.
He chucked me then and I landed on the bed. He had the tie in his hand. "Okay, big-shot," he said. "This is the last time. There ain't going to be no next time for you. Next time I get you with something of mine something's going to happen. Something bad."
"Like I might kill you."
I just looked at him then. For a minute it seemed kind of funny, him talking like that cause most of the time, he's a easy, soft kind of guy. He can handle himself and all that but he don't never look for no trouble. I got kind of scared looking at him cause I see he's different. He means it. He had something in his eyes I never saw before. So I didn't say nothing to that. I was scared of him.
He went out of the room then. I lit another cigarette and a little while later I went into the front room. I wasn't sore at him. It was my fault anyhow for liking that jacket and that tie of his.
Soon as I came in he looked different again. He wasn't sore no more. I went over and put on a record and sat down.
My brother looked at me. "I hear there was trouble again," he said.
"Yeah, what kind?" I said.
"You know what kind."
"Talk English, big brother."
"A boy was shot."
"So what? That ain't nothing new, is it?"
"Your club was in on it."
"Yeah, the Counts."
"I've heard of them cats," I said, "but I ain't got nothing to do with them."
"Yeah, you heard of them. Every kid on the block belongs to them but you. You're just a cute little angel boy that's only the President of the Counts."
"You been listening to propaganda, big brother. I ain't no president of nothing."
"And you ain't going to be president of nothing either if the cops bag you. They going to kick hell out of you. You're only fifteen years old but that don't mean nothing to them. They going to ride you."
"Cops ain't nothing in my life," I said. "They going to do nothing to me. No flatfoot scares this cat."
"Okay. Okay, tough guy. But you going to find out. You going to ride. I'm just warning You. I'm just trying to help you. You won't get nothing but trouble out of club fighting. You know what happened to Ginger. You know what happened to Paradise. They went away for a long time."
"Yeah, cause they was dumb," I said. "If they wasn't dumb they'd still be out in the street instead of being sent away. They had no brains for nothing."
My brother sat down and I put on another number, something sweet, and I stretched on the couch.
"What do you have to belong to a gang for anyhow?" my brother said. "You could join the P. A. L."
"Yeah, P. A. L. That's a fag outfit. Period. I don't want nothing from them police. You look at them cross-eyes and they whip the ass off you, then they want you to join the Police Athletic League. Yeah!"
"So you got to join a gang and be blase?"
I didn't answer that. I just smiled to myself. Me and my brother is two different guys. We don't see nothing the same. We don't talk the same language. We ain't hardly like brothers.
But me, I'm not getting out of no club. Only punks don't belong, cats with no guts. Anyhow, you got to belong, unless you want your head busted in. It ain't safe to walk in the streets unless you're organized. You got to have a mob to put the other mobs in their place. You got to have a gun because the others got guns. Them other cats got all the girls if you let them. They got all the territory. Got everything. If you let them.
But we ain't letting them. I ain't cause I'm the President. I got my boys and they do like I say. I rule. And when we want something we take it. That's all. Cause nobody's giving you nothing. And you ain't going to get nothing by working, nothing more than peanuts anyhow. You ain't ever going to be a millionaire shining shoes or mopping floors and being a janitor. You got to have white skin to have stuff, have shiny cars, live in a nice house and make big money. You got to be white. White kids got everything. White people run everything. White people own the world.
My brother was reading a book now, paying me no mind. Always reading. Thinking he's going to be somebody. Thinking he's going to be a big-shot.
I closed my eyes and listened to the music. I felt good listening to that pretty boogie. All I needed was a stick and I'd be on a cloud floating in the sky.
The next day the bell rings three times. I was asleep and I woke up. I listened. The bell rang again three times. There was nobody to answer it.
I knew who it was. It was Juan, that Spanish guy, and I knew what he wanted me for. But I didn't want to go down.
I waited. The bell rang three times again and then no more and he went away.
I knew he wouldn't come up. We arranged it that way. I told him never to come up. He had to ring three times and I'd come down. I didn't want any one to know I knew him. Nobody except Pal knew about Juan, none of the boys in the club and nobody in the family. That was because of the business.
I was running for him. He was the pusher. He sold the stuff. It was all right. I got all the charge I wanted, the good stuff, and we had another arrangement. Only it was hot business. Running it was like walking on the edge of a cliff all the time with your eyes closed.
Juan was an all right guy. He paid off, but then he got his.
But I was laying up yet. I didn't want to carry any stuff or do anything. After yesterday I figured maybe they was laying for me. Anyhow there were too many bulls around yet because of that other business.
So I smoked a cigarette and went to sleep again. It was ten after twelve when I got up. I had two glasses of milk, that was all. Then I got dressed and looked out the window. It was still quiet around. I hadn't seen any of my boys. Everybody was laying low and that was good. I didn't need any excitement.
But I didn't know what to do with myself. I had to read an old comic magazine. Then I went down to the corner and picked up another and a pack of cigarettes and hurried back to the house because I figured Juan would be around again.
After the comic book I smoked and didn't know what to do with myself. The house was starting to get creepy.
I had some good records but I didn't even feel like playing them.
I thought about the rumble we had. My boys were lucky. So was I. But that boy in the other club got it bad. It could have been one of my boys or me.
Plenty of times I had close ones but the funny thing was I never thought about it deep till now. Even that time when I got the knife.
But that wasn't a club fight. It was just a fight and I knocked the guy down. When he got up I didn't see the knife. It was just like a punch in the back and some one said, Hey, you're bleeding. A man broke up the fight and I went to the hospital and came right out. It didn't pain much, just in bed.
But now I wondered if I'd really get it yet. I wouldn't want to be dead. Hell, I felt like I was getting to be chicken. Deucing out.
I lit another cigarette and looked around the house for some juice. I wanted to get juiced up but the old man had it hid too good. I couldn't find it. Even bad wine would have done but there wasn't any of that even.
A little while later the bell rang and somebody came up the stairs. I didn't answer. Maybe it was one of my boys but I didn't want to see none of them.
Maybe I should have gone down to Juan. The money from the stuff yesterday was nothing and going fast. I needed some more but I still had them cops in mind. Too many were around and the neighborhood was red hot. I said to hell with the money.
I went down and got a bottle of coke on the corner. I had another and then I came back to the house. That guy that was in the doorway yesterday wasn't around at all and that made me feel better. He was a real evil-looking man that meant business.
I had the paper and I read it, then put on a couple of records and relaxed and felt good. All I needed was a few sucks on a stick and I could really start climbing.
About an hour later the bell rang three times. I waited a minute. Then I went downstairs.
Juan was in the hallway, waiting. He gave me a funny look, then said, "Hello, Duke!"
I just nodded my head.
"Want to make some money?" he said.
"It's just one trip. It's up to you," he said, watching me.
"Okay, I'll take it. Where does it go?"
"It's a regular stop. 555."
I nodded and took the stuff then.
"Don't forget the money," he said.
That was something he never forgot. Then he went out. I watched him get in the car, not the big one. He never did business in that. It was too blase like.
I waited a few minutes after he drove away. Then I went out. 555 was a regular. It wasn't too far either. I took the bus up there.
555 was a woman. Every time I took the stuff there I was good for a three buck tip. If it was only one stick I brought she'd grab it. She loved it better than her husband.
I went there and got the tip as usual. She must have been waiting right behind the door. Then I went to Juan's place and gave him the money.
He paid me off and threw in a half a dozen sticks. He must have seen it in my eyes. I smoked one there. One of his women came in then and I left. It was the one I never did like. She said she was Spanish. Yeah) like I am.