Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.

by Sanyika Shakur

“Shakur produces a visceral and strikingly real portrayal of gang life in Los Angeles, replete with sudden and inexplicable violence, revenge, betrayal, ostentatious living, racism, the strong arm of law enforcement, drugs, love and loyalty indistinguishably blurred. . . . Shakur is better than anyone else in the street lit game at making his characters feel like real people, even if the psychology is sometimes ham-fisted. This gang life novel is the real deal.” —Publishers Weekly

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date August 18, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4424-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date August 12, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-1871-4
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $19.95
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date August 12, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4875-0
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

The follow-up to his best-selling memoir Monster, Sanyika Shakur’s T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. is a vicious, heart-wrenching, and true-to-life novel about an L.A. gang member that masterfully captures the violence and depravity of gang life.

Published fourteen years ago, Sanyika Shakur’s classic memoir of gang life, Monster, was a best seller with nearly 400,000 copies in print in the United States alone. With T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., his fiction debut, Shakur has delivered a novel that describes, in the same remarkable detail he employed in Monster, the life of an L.A. gang member, and the violent, consuming, and lavish life of the gangster world.

Shakur’s protagonist is Lapeace, the leader of the Eight Tray Crips gang in South Central Los Angeles. He holds no prisoners on the Compton streets riddled with rivalrous gangs looking for blood. In a deadly gunfight with Anyhow, a Blood and Lapeace’s rival since childhood, eight innocent civilians are killed. Anyhow is captured. Lapeace becomes a fugitive and he must hide out in the home of his girlfriend, Tashima, a hip-hop mogul, as a pair of crooked Los Angeles detectives, John Sweeney and Jesse Mendoza, attempt to track him down. The novel explores Sweeney and Mendoza’s maneuvering of the intricate gang network, the detectives employing informants on both sides of the fight to get at the secluded Lapeace, but even more successfully it explores the psychology of the gang member—and in particular Lapeace’s attempts to uncover his roots and somehow disentangle himself from his violent past.

This novel, like the autobiography before it, was written from the confines of Shakur’s jail cell, and the authenticity of its street scenes—the relentlessness of violence, the do-or-die attitude of each side of the gang war, the sheer joy in the killing—is a testament to the hell that has been a majority of Shakur’s life. He was christened a gang member at the age of eleven and has spent most of his life either running from the law or in jail. With Monster, Shakur announced to the world a side of himself not seen before; with T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E., he follows up with an equally compelling story about the terror of gang life and one man’s attempt to free himself.

Praise

“Shakur produces a visceral and strikingly real portrayal of gang life in Los Angeles, replete with sudden and inexplicable violence, revenge, betrayal, ostentatious living, racism, the strong arm of law enforcement, drugs, love and loyalty indistinguishably blurred. . . . Shakur is better than anyone else in the street lit game at making his characters feel like real people, even if the psychology is sometimes ham-fisted. This gang life novel is the real deal.” —Publishers Weekly

“This fascinating novel reflects the raw violence and moral ambiguities of street gangs and the cops who police them.” —Booklist

T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E. deftly weaves together the extensive and complex histories of its characters with their present struggles.” —Marissa Lee, Chicago Defender

Excerpt

1

Inconspicuously, Anyhow opened the window and raised the venetian blinds slowly, careful not to allow the individual blades to announce his presence. He scanned the partially illuminated den with a trained eye, looking hard at corners and door frames leading to other parts of the spacious town house, which could conceal an occupant lying in wait. Seeing no hint of movement or shadow, Anyhow held fast to the lower seal and with one swift motion hefted himself up and through the window. He landed with learned precision like a stalking cat—smooth and gracious, eyes alert, ears tuned like scanners for inordinate sounds. After a moment on toes and fingertips, confident that his entrance had gone unnoticed, Anyhow lifted his short muscular frame quickly and eased to the darkest part of the room. From this point he stood as still as any inanimate object.

From his immediate left his eyes took in the room. A fifty-three-inch Mitsubishi television set stood diagonally in the corner, resembling in the dimness an Easter Island statue head. Its wide, spoon-shaped screen reflected the hall to his right from where the night light shone.

He’d use it as a cautionary reflector. Atop the big screen sat two eight-by-ten photographs in chestnut-mahogany frames. Although they were not entirely visible from this distance, he could make out the fact that one was a graduation photo and the other a family photo. A raggedy car rolled by on the street in front of the house, its engine knocking badly, begging for oil and a ring job. Anyhow cursed himself for not having closed the window. They had warned him about this. Damn, he thought to himself. One photo, the graduation cap and gown one, was the most visible—visible enough, that is, to reveal the person to be an Amerikan. Something he sensed anyway by the cold temperature of the room. “They,” he’d been told once, “are like polar bears.” Next to the big screen on the left side stood a two-and-a-half-foot Sanyo speaker and on its top a vase with tacky ornamental designs painted on it. A door leading two steps up to what must be a kitchen, he thought, and then the window from whence he came. Under it, but slightly leftward, was a love seat made of black calfskin. On it a child’s notebook was laid open with a pencil across the page. A picture of an oceanscape dominated the wall above it. To the left of the love seat stood the matching Sanyo speaker. On its top was a Holy Bible encased in glass, a long-since-dead rose stem protruded from its middle. The cold temperature of the room caused Anyhow to raise the collar of his Fila sweat jacket and clench his teeth. A longneck, mushroom-topped Tiffany lamp stood erect catty-corner to his position. Next to it was an immobile wet bar with a child’s crayon drawing haphazardly taped to it. The drawing was of stick people. Behind the ebony-oak bar was a full stereo set inserted into the wall. Its reel to reel, however, stood out on a shelf made especially for it. That portion of the room was deep brown paneling, grooved expensively with wedge-end chip stone. Two Norman Rockwell drawings adorned the paneling and led to a plethora of photographs framed in different sizes, all of which covered the expanse of the entire wall. Sitting out from the wall, on an awkward-looking end table, was an antique lamp of considerable expense—a Gregorian—imported from England.

The door with the light shining through its hall broke the wall and to his immediate right stood a six-shelf bookstand densely packed with leather-bound medical texts. Where is it? Anyhow thought, feeling his blood begin to boil, which was a comforting thing against the backdrop of the icy den. They said it would be in the den. He pondered, looking slowly around the walls for something he might have missed, squenching his eyes like Steve Austin, but where in the damn . . . his thoughts were cut short by a framed medical doctorate degree above his head to the right. Hmmm. He positioned himself in front of the certificate and raised his gloved hands toward it. But something furtive caught his eye to the left, and in one learned, fluid motion he reached for his Glock, drew, and fired. The room in a second’s time was awash with light, gunfire, and assertive shouts. Instead of feeling secure as he had in the past when his Glock barked, Anyhow was knocked back into a ball of confusion, fear, and pain. Briefly there was light, and then came the darkness.

* * *

WESTSIDE NIGHT BANDIT CAPTURED! the headlines screamed the following morning. The paper slid across the Formica table, knocking two packs of Sweet ’n Low into the lap of Detective Sweeney. He ignored them and stared unblinking at the newspaper. He read, moving his lips without sound.

John Sweeney was a bald Irishman who’d grown up in the San Fernando Valley and lived in a state of constant fear all of his life. First he feared his domineering father, who’d taken great pains to let him never forget he was of “Fighting Irish” descent. He’d often demonstrate this fighting spirit by routinely finding something to jump on John about. Of course back in the 1970s this was not, as it is today, considered child abuse. Joseph Sweeney was also an alcoholic who’d find fault with John for the most trivial things and then use that as an excuse for history lessons through brutality. John feared and resented his father. His mother had learned her history lesson early and had long since graduated in divorce court. Because she was deathly afraid of Joseph, she didn’t pursue a custody battle and John was left to his dad. As an overweight, pimple-faced boy, John caught the eye and brutish attention of the local stoners; thus, they were his second lesson in fear education. And in the late seventies, his school district began to bus in New Afrikans from South Central L.A. With a short right hook, which knocked out his two front teeth, John Sweeney met his first Crip and there started his third fear. When Career Day was held at his school, El Camino Real High, he sat at two booths and planned his future. One was the USMC booth and the other was an LAPD recruitment booth. After fearfully completing his senior year—taking all the bumps and bruises his dad, the locals, and the Crips (who were in no short supply being bused from South Central) could give him—John Sweeney joined the marines. After four years he was honorably discharged and went directly into the LAPD, assigned to the 77th division in South Central L.A. Within the 77th Division he was designated to the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums unit, better known by its acronym, CRASH—the gang detail—and Sweeney was in nirvana. Ten years with CRASH, two fatal shootings, and countless arrests later, John Sweeney made detective, assigned to the homicide unit.

John Sweeney learned every dirty trick in the book. All the years of being bullied, beaten, and ridiculed were repaid in spades over the years of his tour of duty in L.A. ghettos and ganglands. He wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a good cop. He was, however, a great prison warden. He was the senior dick and thus the primary in all cases given to this team. He’d been a gold shield for four years now. “Oh, shit,” Sweeney chuckled between sips of his steaming coffee, “Alvin Harper is the Westside Night Bandit.”

“Yeah, it says as much right there,” said Jesse Mendoza, Sweeney’s partner. As if Sweeney were stupid.

“No, I know that, but what I’m saying is—”

“Yeah, yeah. Don’t tell me,” interrupted Mendoza. “He’s another shithead gang banger you knew from CRASH, right?”

“Yep, but more than that he’s a suspect in some one-eighty-sevens I’ve not been able to make any headway on. Maybe with these twenty-two burgs over his head and him hinging on three strikes he may want to cut a deal.”

“Oh, yeah, a deal,” retorted Mendoza cynically. “As if we haven’t bargained the city’s safety away by allowing dead bang slime to walk scott fuckin’ free.” At that, he tipped and drained his Styrofoam cup, crushing it noisily in his hand.

“We’ve no more bargained this city’s safety away than the government is controlled by the president. Now, what do you say we get down to County General and see ol’ Anyhow before he gets sent to Central and put in the Blood Module. After he’s there, his homies will fuse him with subcultural strength and he’ll probably never tell.” Sweeney finished off his coffee laced with Sweet ’n Low, stood, struggled into his knit blazer, and rubbed tiredly on his shaved head.

“Well, I think it’ll be a dry run,” responded Mendoza, giving his tailored suit the once-over.

“Yeah, your optimism is too bright, Jess.” Sweeney left a dollar tip and pushed out into the early L.A. sunlight. Mendoza followed, mumbling something about the dollar being too much of a tip. They stood next to the navy blue Chevy Lumina and removed their coats, which they’d just put on not fifty yards prior. Both wore white starched button-down collared shirts. Mendoza’s was long sleeved and Sweeney’s was short, exposing his Steve Garvey-like arms and USMC tattoo. Although their vehicle was supposed to be unmarked, it stood out like a woman in a men’s communal shower. If the fact that it had no hubcaps over its black rims, dressed in traditional black wall police tires was not enough, then certainly the license plate prefixed with “e” was a dead giveaway. The mounted antenna was an altogether different thing. Unmarked indeed. Mendoza maneuvered the turbo-charged Chevy out onto Manchester Avenue and caught the moderate flow of commuter traffic. Instinctively his left hand began to tug lightly at the left side of his Pancho Villa mustache, a habit since high school when he’d first shown signs of facial hair. It earned him the nickname Lefty. He never used it because nicknames, he felt, were precursors to being gang affiliated, nor would anyone openly refer to him as such. So, á la Benjamin Siegel, no one faced him with “Lefty.” But that’s what his peers knew him as.

Jesse Mendoza was a thirty-nine-year-old Chicano with deep-seeded machismo beliefs. Born and raised in the Estrada Courts housing project in East L.A., he managed through some tightwire maneuvering to escape the drag-iron recruitment net of the local gangs. In his project were the VNE, or Varrio Nuevo Estrada. Most of his childhood friends had cliqued, grown up hard in the varrio, and eventually died young or went to prison. He used his education as a means, indeed as a weapon, to fight his way out of the poverty-stricken labyrinth of Estrada Courts. Joining the LAPD was but one of four ways to actually escape the varrio. The other options, of course, generally available to most youth in the ghettos, were entertainer, athlete, or U.S. Armed Forces recruit. By joining the LAPD he did, in fact, join the U.S. Armed Forces. Five-foot-ten and thin as a rail, with sunken facial features, he looked like a mustached Detective Munch on the popular television show Homicide. He’d worn glasses up until his tour of duty began, then he was turned on to Lenscrafters and was fitted with Bausch and Lomb contact lenses. Married and the father of twin girls, he loathed being called Mexican. “Mexicans,” he’d quickly say, correcting anyone who had the unfortunate luck of being so ignorant, “were born and lived in Mexico. I am a Chicano, born in Aztlán, in what you call the United States but is really Aztec land, the Chicano Nation.”

Jesse Mendoza was, perhaps more than anything, a stubborn cynic. This he’d taken above and beyond the trained cynicism doled out at the academy and mixed it with a touch of machismo, pessimism, and prejudice to come up with a less than sociable personality that no one other than police officers could tolerate. Mendoza was, above all, a straight arrow. He pushed the line of law and order as it was written. He was no vigilante. He hated racism and still, while upholding the written laws of the land, knew that poor people were at a vast disadvantage in most situations in the face of the state.

The police radio squawked some coded feedback, which Sweeney instinctively turned down. The Lumina bore forward toward the on-ramp of the Harbor Freeway. Mendoza deliberately blocked off a blue custom dully truck, lowered on some gold Dayton wire rims, and shot onto the freeway accelerating constantly until he’d reached in excess of seventy mph and caught the flow of traffic as if they’d been in it since Long Beach. Both officers hated County General Hospital. The often nonlucid staff made every trip there a tedious one. The highway patrol vehicle flew past on the inner lane next to the divider. The Crown Victoria floated easily at ninety-seven mph. The only difference between the marked and unmarked CHP vehicles were row lights on top and color-reál stealth.

“Good morning L.A.,” Mendoza said sarcastically, tugging on his mustache.

Lapeace was disturbed from a pleasant dream by the dancing pager vibrating noisily on the nightstand. It had been vibing for some time but in his dream it had been his twelve-inch tubs subbing the bass line of Tupac’s newest single “Hit ’Em Up.” Panty-clad women danced around his 3600 Chevy Suburban as he puffed on a blunt the size of a small child. The atmosphere was too cool, but the subbing had persisted long after the song had gone off and he frowned (even in his sleep) because that meant he was getting feedback through his lines, which was a sign of sloppy instalation. In his dream, he lifted up on a cloud of indo smoke and rode it like a Jet-Ski toward the back of the block-long truck to check his amp modulation. The feedback continued until finally his REM was broken and he realized that the sound was not in his head but coming from his pager.

Slowly he opened his eyes and peered suspiciously around the room. Where the fuck am I? he thought to himself, seeing no familiar furnishings. The pager danced again, breaking his thought. He grabbed it like a screaming child with his hand over its mouth in an attempt to shut it up and pushed the received button. 29 910 459-83. He stared at the cryptic message and fell back onto his pillow as if a great load had been lifted from his chest. He closed his eyes and clenched the silent Intel pager in his massive hand and tried with no success to recapture the sight of the panty-clad women. “Shit,” he muttered under his breath and looked for the first time at the woman lying sound asleep beside him. Her hourglass shape caused the deep blue triple-goose comforter to rise and lower like the mountainous contour of the Rockies. Her Brandy-like braids, strewn in thirty different directions over the fluffy pillow, were pulled back from her face exposing her beautifully sculpted features. She was evidently young, as her face glowed radiantly with young skin.

What’s her name? Lapeace thought to himself. Tamika? Talibah? Tayari? What? He’d done this countless times. Met a woman at a club, macked up on her, and left the club with her for a steamy sexual roll, only to forget her name the next day—or even the same night. He always said he’d do better, but things only got worse. Now here he was again with an unknown body. And where was he this time? he wondered. And my truck—this thought caused him to leap up from the bed and head for the window. Nearly tripping over a clump of clothes on the floor, his foot got momentarily caught up in a Karl Kani belt. He shook it loose, reached the windowpane and the string on the miniblinds. Through a dirty pane of glass and a barrage of bars he could make out the top of Lucky—his green Lexus 3600 Suburban XLT. Across the top of Lucky, which was parked in the driveway, Lapeace could see two Mexican men painting the trim on the adjacent house. They spoke in rapid Spanish between gulps of Corona and strokes of the paintbrush. Before lowering the blinds he tried to look up the drive to see just where he was, but the bedroom was too far back and his view was obscured by the house next door. He thought about venturing out of the room but decided against it because if she was as young as she looked she might just be living with her parents.

“Good morning, Lapeace,” said a crisp, young singsong voice. Startled by the break in silence, he let go of the drawstring and the blinds crashed onto the window seal noisily.

“Damn, don’t do that,” he said, trying to remember her name. “You ain’t right.”

“Aw, you ain’t gotta be all jumpy. I only said good morning,” she replied cooing as if talking to a child who’d been frightened. She’d gotten up and propped her head in her hand supported by her elbow on the bed. The comforter fell slightly away revealing her naked breasts.

“Naw, I was just thinking about something. I ain’t trippin’. Eh, where . . .” and suddenly he realized that he was naked. He looked down at himself and quickly over to the clump of clothes, none of which she missed. His body tensed, obviously aware of his audience, as he tried to suck in his gut and push out his chest, not that he had much of either. She looked on in amusement as he held his breath in an attempt to look mannish. Men are just as vain as they accuse women of being, she thought to herself.

“Um . . . are . . . we . . . I mean, is this . . .” but his train of thought would not connect accordingly, and his shyness splattered all over the room, revealing beyond the phat truck, expensive jewelry, and designer clothes a shy man-child stripped to his essence.

“Come here, baby,” she beckoned and held open her arms allowing her supple breasts to swing freely with her movement. Hesitantly, Lapeace stepped forward, trying to make it to the bed quickly and shield his nakedness, but still his heavy dick hit and slapped both thighs as he walked. Instead of embracing him or letting him get under the comforter with her, she held him at arm’s distance and stared up into his dark, handsome face. He looked down questioningly, tracing the length of her fine thin arms to her beautifully manicured hands, which rested firm on both of his thighs.

“Lapeace, you are a fine brotha. You ain’t got nothing to be ashamed about baby. Nothing.” And with that she took him into her warm mouth and sucked him to an erection. Lapeace groaned, moaned, and leaned into her bobbing head with one hand in her braids and the other twisting and manipulating his own nipple. Feeling the coming explosion, and not wanting the sensation to end, he withdrew from her and yanked back the comforter, revealing one of her fingers working furiously on her clit. He lifted her hand and sucked the nectar from her fingers. Licking every digit individually until her fingers were covered with saliva, he guided her hand to his extended dick and she began to stroke it gently while he busied himself with her wetness below. Before long she was moaning his name as he licked and lapped at her hot pussy. Lying on her back, arched into a bridgelike overpass, she ground her pelvis rhythmically into his face. Her firm breasts were held lovingly in each hand and her pretty toes were pointed toward the ceiling. “Do it Lapeace, eat that pussy baby. Ohh, yes, do it you sexy mothafucka, do it!” she hissed through pants and moans. And Lapeace smacked cheerfully on as her juices ran freely into his mouth. Satisfied that she had come, Lapeace got on his knees and gently entered her temple, allowing her to feel every raised vein in his shaft. When he’d buried the length, he slowly pulled out the engorged head and pushed with one even stroke until he’d buried it again and then proceeded to make passionate love to the woman whose name he still couldn’t remember. After an hour of multiple positions, they were both drained and exhausted, laid out breathing soulfully in satisfied gestures. They said nothing, just listened to the Mexican painters’ lively exchange next door. Their peaceful time was interrupted by the buzzing of the doorbell. Lapeace looked over at her blissful face and nudged her lightly.

“Eh,” he started, hoping she wouldn’t notice he hadn’t said her name once this morning. “Ain’t you gonna answer the door?” He got no reply. Just a low breathing sound similar to a baby’s snore. He nudged her again, this time a bit harder. “Say, somebody’s at yo’ door, ain’t you gonna answer it?” Bzzz, Bzzz. She then began to stir, slowly scooting to the end of the bed, pulling the comforter with her as she went. “Uh-uhn,” said Lapeace, snatching and gathering up the comforter. “You ain’t got nothing to be ashamed of—you fine,” he said, mimicking her words playfully.

“Now you learning,” she said, with a backward mischievous glance, and strutted naked as the day she was born toward the bedroom door. Lapeace sat up straight, holding the balled-up comforter over his genitals, eyes transfixed on her lovely muscular ass. Damn, he thought to himself, she is fine! When she got to the bedroom door, knowing he was looking, she put both of her tiny feet together, which served only to accent her bow legs, and bent full at the waist, bringing her face down to rest fully on her knees. Through her bow she could see his mouth fall slack. Bzzz, Bzzz. She lifted up and exited the room.

“Damn,” Lapeace said aloud to himself. “She’s straight.” For the first time he really scoped out the room. Hip-hop posters canvased every wall. Tupac was prominently displayed, going back three albums. Kausion, Kam, MC Lyte, the Poetess, Ice Cube, Bahamadia, and the 5th Ward Boyz. One whole wall was nothing but CDs—there must have been two thousand. Alphabetically cataloged. Atop a cute pink thirteen-inch Zenith television sat a row of small photos of her and some hip-hop artists: Too Short, Spice I, MC Eiht, Mopreme from Thug Life, and Sheena Lester, editor in chief of Rap Pages magazine. He moved over to the nightstand on her side and read a list of things to do, one of which included: “Meet Spike at Georgia’s.” Was that Spike Lee? And was Georgia’s Denzel Washington’s place on Melrose? What was her damn name? he thought to himself angrily now. Over the headboard was a giant poster advertising Sankofa, and it was framed. He heard her padding down what must be the hall and tumbled onto the bed.

“UPS is so stupid,” she came in complaining. “They know I got an account with them but wouldn’t leave my package without my receipt book.” Lapeace, knowing nothing about UPS or receipt books, gestured helplessly with his hands and eyebrows. He lay there pretending to be contemplating her dilemma while lusting at her sexy stance. Damn, she is fine. Just then her phone rang and she plopped onto the bed with her back facing him. Her braids hung lightly down her back and he couldn’t help but reach out and rub her silky skin. In circular motions his big dark hands caressed her bare back. He eased them up to her shoulders and began to massage her tension-filled traps.

“Uhmm, yes . . . that’s it . . .” she said softly. “No, no, not you Mr. Duke, excuse me. No this is a good time. Okay, are you ready? Tashima Mustafa . . . 5428 Hillcrest Drive. L.A. California, 90043, 213-296-2871. And my pager number is 213-412-3880. Yes, I overstand. I’ll be looking forward to it. Thank you. Bye.”

Mustafa? Hillcrest Drive? Two things hit him at once. One, she was Tashima Mustafa, CEO of RapLife Music—the phattest hip-hop company on the West Coast and no doubt one of the biggest after Death Row Records. And two, he was in Rollin’ Sixty neighborhood. His worst enemies. He had to disguise both his excitement at having hit Tashima Mustafa as well as his dismay at being caught in the Sixties during daylight hours. When she’d finished her call she asked was he hungry, to which he replied he was. He thought she was going to make them breakfast but instead suggested they go to Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles. She left the room after breaking his lustful embrace and began to shower, humming an indistinguishable tune that sounded like the old Teddy Pendergrass song, “Close the Door.” Lapeace’s pager vibrated and at its sudden life he hollered through the bathroom door and asked Tashima if he could use the phone.

“It’s about time you answered that damn pager. Someone’s been blowing you up all morning,” she shouted over the stream of shower water, surprising him that she’d been up the first time it had gone off. He said nothing and went to the phone. After he dialed the number he walked over to the side window and watched two Mexican kids playing happily in the next yard. On the fourth ring the phone was picked up by a service, which began with some lyrics from Tupac:

Gimme my money in stacks,

And lace my bitches with dime figures.

Real niggas fingas on nickel-plated nine triggers

Must see my enemies defeated,

Catch ’em while they coked up and weeded

Open fire now them niggas bleeding.

“West up, this is Sekou, I ain’t in right now, but leave a message and I’ll hit you back. Out.”

Beeeeeeeeep. “Sekou, it’s me, L.P. Pick up da phone, nigga.”

“Hello?”

“Man, why you keep that fucking service on like you ain’t there when you always there?”

“Aw, I be just screening my calls and shit. You feel me?”

“Yeah, I feel you, homie,” muttered Lapeace. Sliding open Tashima’s nightstand drawer and seeing a large-caliber weapon under a quarter ounce of pot—indo, no doubt the chronic.

“Why you didn’t hit me back earlier, Peace?”

“Huh? Oh, shit, ’cause I got the message and I ain’t had nuttin to say. Shit, fuck that nigga.”

“You know he stubo, huh? They fin’ to stretch that fool.”

“Fuck him,” said Lapeace, fiddling around in the drawer seeing a fresh pack of Philly Blunts, two extra clips for the weapon, and a battery for a Motorola cellular phone. He was trying to distract himself from the news of Anyhow’s capture and what seemed to be an imminent life term. He’d felt queasy really since he’d gotten the coded message this morning.

29 910 459-83

29 was the code given to Anyhow, Lapeace’s set, to monitor his movements and to be able to talk over cordless lines without fear of conspiracy charges. 9-10 is the alphabetical numerical sequence for “I-J,” meaning “in jail.” 459 is the penal code for burglary and 83 was the street number for Lapeace’s neighborhood, Eighty-third Street.

“Hello? Peace, you there?” asked Sekou, wondering where his homie had gone and why there was an eerie silence.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m here.”

“That’s your boy still, ain’t it, Peace?”

“Nigga, you mad? Hell naw! Fuck that slob ass fool. Eh, cuz, I’m fin’ to take a shower and grub, I’ll hit you on the hip later on.”

“Wait, I—”

“I’m out.” Click. Lapeace broke the connection and immediately the phone rang. Lapeace knew it was Sekou who’d hit him back with Star 69. He sat there by the phone until it stopped ringing and then moved to collect his clothes from the middle of the floor. He hoped his things hadn’t gotten too wrinkled. As he smoothed over the fabric on his black Kani jeans, he thought of some connections he could tap into, which could draw on more particulars involving the case with Anyhow. He had a sista friend who worked at the L.A. Sentinel that he could call who’d probably know more from a pig’s perspective than he’d learned from Sekou’s street version. Burglary? he thought. Anyhow? Unless it was an industrial burglary, involving a gang of money or jewelry, he couldn’t see it. He’d lain his clothes out neatly on the unmade bed when Tashima came into the room wrapped in a black fluffy towel, smelling of fresh strawberries.

“Your turn, lover man,” she said, bowing gracefully.

“Right on, then,” said Lapeace evenly and sauntered past her, but not before she’d grabbed a handful of his ass. He tensed quickly to her touch and she complimented him on his glutes. He blushed and kept his pace. The hot shower did him well, and soon he was dressed and lacing his black Kani boots. Standing in front of the mirror, he checked his appearance. Triple zero baldhead, two half-karat diamond studs in his left ear, one gold loop in his right. Thick eyebrows. Strong nose leading down to a thick dark mustache clipped neatly over full lips. He had a strong chin and jawline to match. His neck was still thick and muscular from being a jock in high school. He wore one two-inch herringbone necklace out over his Kani hoody, black Kani pants blushed up over his black Kani boots. Hopefully they could get in and out of Roscoe’s before the sun started to heat things up and he’d look ridiculous in the same gear, which was the bomb last night. “Can we take your car, Tashima?” he asked, hoping she wouldn’t inquire as to why.

“My car ain’t here. It was hit by a Mexican and now it’s being painted. Is something wrong with your truck?” she asked suspiciously.

“Naw, the truck is straight. It’s just that it’s hella dirty, you know?”

“Dirty?” she asked incredulously. ‘dirty how? As in real dirt and grime? Dirty as in you got some heat in it, or meanin” that you’ve done some dirt in it? The first two I can stand, but I can’t fade the latter. So, come on now, holler at me,” she said with her head tilted slightly leftward supporting the weight of her question.

“Not the third, fo’ sho’. It’s just a film of dust over it. Nothing we can’t stand. I wouldn’t jeopardize you, Tashima,” Lapeace countered, stepping up to her five-foot-two frame of young beauty, allowing his six-two height to tower over her persuasively.

“I sure hope not, ’cause I ain’t in no gettin’-shot-at mood this morning.”

“I feel you on that,” Lapeace responded, wanting to add, “’cause I know you be dumpin’ back.” But he didn’t want to reveal the fact that he’d been snooping in her drawer. She moved over toward the nightstand that held her weapon. Her Pelle Pelle jeans were beige, hip-hop baggy, and fresh. Her braids, which he learned were not extensions, were pulled back and fastened in a ponytail by a black hair tie. Some black Ray-Ban baby locs sat atop her head and her black T-shirt bore the faces of Suga-T, B-Legit, D-Shot, and E-40 on the front and on the back was simply “The Click, Game Related.” Her Norflake three-quarter-top boots were unlaced with the tongue hanging out.

“Lapeace,” she said, stopping before she reached the drawer. “You got heat in the truck, right?”

Reluctantly, after a few seconds, Lapeace said, “Fo’ sho’—in my lap at all times.”

“Awright, volume ten,” she said with a bright laugh and opened the drawer, retrieved the box of blunts and the pot, hesitated, then closed the drawer. She wore only eyeliner that accentuated her almond-shaped, amber-brown eyes and her lips were culturally atavistic works of art. Sculpted, seemingly, from the bloodline of New Afrika’s finest.

“Let’s bounce,” she said, walking two steps ahead of Lapeace, who snatched up his pager, keys, and Chapstick on the way out. At the kitchen they stopped briefly, as Tashima went to the service area and poured what sounded like dog food in a bowl. When she returned she explained that she had a rottweiler named Kody that was just getting over Parvo, and she felt very bad for him. She looked depressed. They walked up the dark hallway past two other bedrooms and into a spacious dining area, then an equally large living room furnished with low black-lacquered tables and leather. The walls reflected platinum everywhere. Before exiting the house, Tashima punched in a code for her alarm. From the porch, Lapeace hit his alarm but no sound returned, just a red light on his remote signaling his alarm had been disarmed. He pushed a second green button and Lucky roared to life. Tashima stopped momentarily and gazed at the truck and then quickly at his hand, raising an eyebrow. “That’s pretty phat, man,” she said, smiling, watching as his fingers touched a third button that unlocked the doors. They entered the air-conditioned confines of the plush Suburban, sat momentarily, and then backed out of the driveway slowly.

Lapeace took Hillcrest, down past 57th to Slauson, turned right, and didn’t play any music until he’d crossed Dean. He grabbed up his remote, pressed 5-4 and Sean Levert’s “Put Your Body Where Your Mouth Is” came out heavy and strong—flooding the interior of the truck with highs and lows, perfectly pitched, rapping them up in real soulful R&B—without the nasal twang. The Suburban pushed up Slauson, effortlessly gliding like a big ship over calm waters. Tashima nestled back into the big seat and relaxed. Neither spoke a word, just let Sean do his thing. South Central faded past as the small, hobbled-together storefront businesses gave way to more commercialized and less relevant to New Afrikan peoples stores. At La Cienega, Lapeace turned right and headed north toward Washington Boulevard. Lapeace circumvented the Rollin’ Sixties neighborhood as well as several smaller sets, some hostile toward his sand, some not. He just wasn’t in the mind-set to be dumping or chitchatting with bangers. Not that he was such an active force in the zones (as he’d been a few years back), but still he’d gotten his rep the old-fashioned way. He’d killed for it.

They arrived at Roscoe’s quicker than Tashima expected. The big truck floated so smoothly, coupled with the relaxing music, she’d almost dozed off. Lapeace guided her inside protectively, choosing a seat in the rear where he could sit with a bird’s-eye view of all who came and went, Malcolm X-style. The place was, as usual, hustling with people, mostly young, game-related folk. A few elders sprinkled here and there. Across from them diagonally sat a brotha who kept staring at Tashima, but because her back was to him she was unaware of his persistent gaze. He sat with a woman who looked very familiar in a wholesome, nonthreatening way. He couldn’t put his finger on just where he’d seen her before.

The waitress brought them menus and without looking they both ordered chicken, waffles, and orange juice. “Tashima, do you . . .” he started but didn’t finish.

“Lapeace, everyone just calls me Shima. I’d feel more comfortable if you used it too,” she said, her hand reaching across to sit on his.

“Awright,” he began again. “Shima, do you know ol’ boy behind you to your left? Don’t look over too obvious. Just do it casually,” he said, instructing her like a spy master. Shima was enjoying his little protective ways. She felt comfortable with him, and it hadn’t escaped her notice that he’d taken the long way there.

“Maybe,” she whispered across the table, “I should act like I’m going to the ladies’ room?”

“Naw,” he whispered back, lowering his voice to her level, “I don’t think it’s that serious.”

“Oh,” she said, surprised, leaning back in her booth. “I thought we were being clocked by jackers or somethin’.” Lapeace just stared across at her without saying a word. His expression said it all: Don’t be playing like that. She overstood. The couple were preparing to leave, gathering up their black leather appointment books, pens, and magazines when Shima turned slightly toward them. The man was muscularly thin, athletically so, like a track and field competitor. Dark-skinned, with tight, almost Asiatic-shaped eyes. His hair was cropped low on top, wavy in an ‘s’-curl fashion and faded to a one on the sides. His smile revealed splendid white teeth and he had no facial hair. He was dressed in black jack boots, stone-washed jeans, and a short-sleeved blue thermal shirt. The woman was quite short, but definitely packing. Close-cut hair, perhaps a two, waved from constant brushing. Her short hair accentuated her natural beauty. She wore no makeup. Didn’t need to. The woman was fine. Her jeans were darker, loose fitting, and comfortably holed in key spots. The T-shirt she was wearing was white with a silkscreen photo of Jimi Hendrix across the front with the words “The Beginning” under him. They stood to leave. “Antoine, what is up, my brotha?” said Shima excitedly, scooting across and out of her booth to greet him.

“Hey Shima,” said the brotha. “I thought that was you but I wasn’t sure. Hey,” he continued, “you know Me’shell Ndegeocello, don’t you?”

“No, but I’ve always wanted to meet you,” Shima answered warmly.

“The feeling is definitely mutual.”

They’d all but forgotten about Lapeace sitting there looking sullen. He’d heard it all. And while he didn’t know who Antoine was, he’d definitely heard of Me’shell Ndegeocello. He had her Plantation Lullabies CD in Lucky’s CD changer. He made a mental note to play it on their way back.

“Oh,” bubbled Shima, bouncing on her toes, “I’m so sorry. This is my friend Lapeace.”

“Lapeace, good to meet you brotha,” said Antoine, extending his hand for a power clench shake.

“Righteous,” replied Lapeace, standing cordially to receive his hand, then shaking it strongly.

“Hey, Lapeace, how you doing?” greeted Me’shell, stepping up for a hug.

“I’m straight, and it’s certainly a pleasure to meet you.” His whole language pattern changed for the greeting. Shima, as usual, noted it. Lapeace stood a bit outside the circle while they chatted on about industry things. Antoine Fuqua was a major video director for Propaganda Films who’d been hired to shoot Me’shell’s new video, plus it stemmed from the conversation that she’d be doing the score for an upcoming film Antoine was directing. They talked a minute more before final salutations were exchanged, then the pair left. The steamy hot chicken and waffles were the bomb, as always, and went down quickly. On the ride back, Lapeace began Me’shell’s CD with his favorite, “Souls on Ice,” and Shima listened attentively, agreeing off and on with traditional “I know that’s right” and “Fo’ sho’.” The Suburban pushed on down Washington to Arlington and panned right. At the corner of Adams and Arlington they were caught by the light. They both sat staring across at the Elegant Manor, the huge house used by the Universal Negro Improvement Association, Marcus Garvey’s organization, which was still in existence. A black-and-white patrol car eased up in the turning lane, its tomato-faced occupants staring hard at Lapeace’s truck. The green Lexus paint, covered by its thirteen coats of lacquer and accented by gold Daytons wrapped in 50-series low-profile Perellis, screamed drug dealer to the police. They sat and looked piggish, and Lapeace eased the music down. He wasn’t worried about anything legitimate they could sweat him for, ’cause all that was covered—license, registration, and proof of insurance. Even his heat was stashed so well they’d never find it. The light turned green and the truck churped out and got some rubber from its posey traction. The police turned right.

Lapeace took the double hill on Arlington slow, careful not to scrape the bottom of his bumpers against the asphalt, a precaution he’d been given when he’d had his coils cut. The vibration on his hip alerted him to a page. He lowered Me’shell’s “If That’s Your Boyfriend” and lifted up the cellular from its holder, keyed in the number, and pressed send. A moment later, a male voice came on the line.

“Hello.”

“This is Lapeace.”

“Please hold, sir,” said the proper voice on the other end. A moment passed before a familiar voice came on.

“Lapeace, how are you this morning?” queried the voice in a colonized accent.

“I’m straight. What’s up?”

“Well,” began the voice cautiously, “it appears that she is willing to fight you in a custody battle. Now, we have more than enough grounds to win this case, but I don’t know if you want your business in the court of law.”

Lapeace looked pensive, outwardly disturbed at the news. “Well, let me get back to you this afternoon. Right now I’m in traffic and holding.”

“Oh, I see,” answered the voice. “Very well then. Call me back at the office, say, around three. Is that fine for you?”

“That’s straight. Oh, and dig this: 29 910 459,” said Lapeace, rattling off the numbers given to him earlier by Sekou. “Can you check into this for me?”

“Sure, Lapeace. At three, I’ll have something for you.”

“Awright, I’m out.” The connection was broken and so was his laid-back mood. Shit, he thought to himself. If it wasn’t one thing it’s another. In midstride he flicked the CD from Me’shell Ndegeocello to Tupac and “You wonder why we call you bitch” came blaring out. So loud was it that Shima had to tap his leg for attention and signal for him to please turn it down. Reluctantly he did so, but only slightly. She tapped again, looking questionably at his cloudy face. He put the song on pause.

“Lapeace, what’s wrong? Is it me or what?” she asked pointedly, trying to figure out his sudden mood change. Certainly she’d heard nothing on his end of the situation to warrant such a shift. Perhaps, she thought, it was her and this was his sign of saying the date’s over.

“Naw, Shima, it ain’t you,” he said, coming to a stop behind a waste-management truck on Arlington and Vernon Avenue. “It’s my ex-girl, really my ex-wife. She doesn’t want me to have custody of my children. She wants to fight it out in court.” He looked, for the first time, weak and frightened.

“You’ve been married and have children?” she asked in a nonbelieving tone.

“Yeah, I got caught up with a woman older than me and became dependent on her. It’s a long story.” He trailed off his discourse.

“I ain’t mad at cha. It’s just a trip to find a brotha your age who’s been married these days. So, you ain’t afraid of commitment, huh?” she asked, which was more rhetorical than an outright question.

“Naw, it ain’t commitment that scares me, it’s scandalous bitches that fuck me up.” He’d grown angry, and it reflected in his language, tone, and driving. He was pushing Lucky with recklessness up Vernon Avenue. At Crenshaw he punched it through a yellow light and took Santa Rosalia up into the hills.

“Lapeace, can you please slow down a bit?” She’d grown afraid of his driving, and Lucky no longer seemed luxurious and comfortable, but more like a rolling coffin. When they got to Shima’s house, he sat in the truck and wouldn’t get out. She came around to his side and rested her elbows on his window. “Listen,” she began, “I feel you, Lapeace. I see that you are a qualitative brotha. I don’t know much about you, but from what I’ve seen I can dig you. But if you let some . . . some . . . ol’ scandalous bitch drive you mad, you’re as weak as any other fool out here.” He shot her an eyebrow-connected glare, but she continued. “Now, what I suggest you do is,” opening the door to the truck, “come on in here and blow a blunt with me and calm down.”

“I gotta bounce,” he responded, closing back his door, “but let’s get together later, awright?”

“You ain’t gonna get with me later, Lapeace.”

“I will if that’s what you want.”

“You know it is . . .” She looked off thoughtfully.

“What,” he said in a clowning voice, “I gotcha open?”

“Wide, baby,” she said looking at him and holding his brown eyes to hers, “but I can close if I feel the catch is foul. So don’t bug out on me, War.”

“War? Where you get that from?” His mind had already fallen off of his ex-wife.

“Lapeace,” she said slowly, “‘La’ is Swahili for no, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

“And “peace”—no peace. Which means if there is no peace, it’s only war. But which war are you fighting, soldier?” she asked seriously.

“The good fight,” he answered and Lucky rumbled to life. “I’ll hit you off later,” he said, backing out of Shima’s yard, never unlocking eyes with her. He was back in control of his mood and flicked the remote to reflect it. Out of his system came MC Lyte: “B boy, I’ve been lookin’ for your ass since a quarter past . . .” Tashima smiled, waved, and he rolled off subbing down the block, hidden behind the dark tent of Lucky’s windows.