Sunday, April 3, 2011


The men seemed to be unarmed, but Edward didn’t believe what his eyes took in. There was absolutely no way that a drug dealer would be stopping by for a friendly dun like he was delivering chicken!

Still, Edward didn’t flinch. Although he cultivated a playa image, he had been nowhere near the real thing. He had grown up in a house, in a friendly middle-class neighbourhood. The houses were well below McMansion size, but they were solid like the people who lived in them. His upbringing had left him totally unprepared for this.

Except on one point. Although sceptical of the police, he hadn’t cruised on the bad side of the law. He didn’t even think of slamming the door shut and running for the gun on his pillow, as a real thug would have done. Despite the outrage, he kept it legal. Instead of thuggin’, he kept it to words.

Angry words, but not heated as he didn’t have any heat in his hand. “I can’t pay you for what I haven’t got.”

“Sure you don’t,” the stranger said ironically with a smirk.

Sure I don’t,” Edward emphasized. Playing into Sandy-Hair’s irony, he added sarcastically: “Why don’t you just come on in?”

The thug did, and went straight to the place where his vid-camming companion had hidden the package with the white powder. Opening the drawer, he pulled out the rectangular-solid package.

“That’s ten grand, Ed. Ten grand for it, right in your place.”

Edward’s brow wrinkled and he showed surprise. “That stuff, it ain’t mine.”

From inside his place, he heard “And this isn’t your place?”

Forgetting the possibility of them being armed, he belted back: “I said, it wasn’t mine. You want it? Take it.”

Sandy-hair emerged from Edward’s home, with a glint in his eyes like that on the gun. “And if I turn it in to the police?”

Now, Edward realized why he hadn’t touched the gun! “Sure, you do that. I’m asking you to. Go ahead; right now, if you want.” Not realizing it, he sounded a lot like his father.

Looking at his vid-camming dark-haired, beady-eyed friend, and getting a short head-shake in return, the intruder didn’t take “Ed” up on the offer. Instead, he said tonelessly, “maybe I will.”

“You do that,” Edward continued, uncomfortably aware that this stranger was less than a foot away from him. “We’ll see who’s believed.”

Incredibly, the sandy-haired stranger looked sullen and subtly defeated. Suddenly, Edward felt invulnerable. He wasn’t sure if God was watching him or a neighbour, but these guys were not playing it violent. Had they been there to nail him, he’d be waiting for a stretcher or waiting in front of the Pearly Gates. Drug dealers, they don’t mess around. These guys were messing.

So, with a bit of glee, he added: “You want to take something else that isn’t mine, go right ahead.”

Now smiling, he realized he played it right. His back was leaning on the jamb of his door, slightly arched like it was when he was tensed up in his chair. He knew he had the advantage. The stranger was on the other side of the doorframe, just that foot away from “Ed.” If he had wanted to go bad, he could have. He didn’t.

He knew what Edward was talking about. Slipping back, he got the six-shot Taurus Model 65 from Edward’s pillow and left the note. Idly pointing it at him when re-emerging to the door, the sandy-haired man said “Thanks.”

The feeling of invulnerability didn’t leave; Edward was doubly sure he had sized up the situation correctly. Mimicking something he had heard in an old movie or somewhere, he kept his back planted on the jamb and said: “So why don’t you and your valuable property go on out of here.” The safety of the gun was still on.

Moving slowly back to the entrance way, Sandy-hair looked at his vidcamming confederate and got the assent. Trying to regain control, he murmured “Don’t blame us if the cops show your way.” They both left, without further incident.

Seeing them go, Edward didn’t feel the gasping relief that he should have felt. Instead, his invulnerable feeling disappeared and left puzzlement. Like all playas of his sort, he hadn’t dived into the real life but had kept tabs on it with his old friends back in the day. He knew about drug dealers; they were bad. Real bad. Had this been a drug deal gone wrong, he would have been shot; no doubt about it. Those white-jive turkeys, they had acted like white-school hoodies trying to shake him down for an iPod. They had relied on little more than intimidation, which he did not give them the pleasure of seeing.

He felt surreal. Part of the reason why he waited in the jamb was for the call of a neighbour or two, which would explain why those trash played it hoodie instead of the real thing. Had they been, he would have at least been shot in the leg or somewhere else: sending a message to anyone contemplatin’ welching. There would have been a hefty monetary “fine” for interrupting the stream of dishonest commerce, too.

Edward was no Flavor Flav, and this incident had the flavour of hate, but he felt like he had been playing. No...staged. He was staged, but not upstaged. Satisfied with that thought, and not hearing any shout-outs, he disappeared back into his room and shut the door on the jamb. It had taken only a couple of minutes, but it felt like an hour.

Confirming that the gun was indeed gone, he sat on his bed. The note, left behind, he brushed aside; it fell on the floor. Had he been a smoker, he would have likely taken his lighter and burned it after a slow one. Still tense, he riffled through his mind to figure out what was bothering him.

It came when he though he should call Kaliyah and then Roger. At first preparing, he held fast for a reason that came to him after a few seconds’ thought. When the hypothesis embraced him, he flashed a full-teeth smile and relaxed enough for bed.

Yup… that was it. The surreality of his experience now made perfect sense. No, he wouldn’t call anyone; he’d wait until they called or talked to him.

It was obvious now. Edward had been punk’d.

Two degrees of separation, needed to keep his and his partners’ hands clean, separated Matvei Iskander from the beady-eyed chap who had set up the drama and recorded it. He had stayed up well past midnight, in time to hear a filtered report from the scene. His absence at the night club he usually frequented was noticeable and, he was sure, was noticed. That no-showing was to indirectly but definitely tie his name to the comeuppance delivered to that… who had harassed the company LIS Investments put their hard-knock-earned money into.

He was the ‘I’, and the one who was most skilled with the work best done in the quiet of the still forest. Pre-explaining his absence, he had said he had needed to save money. Too much of his precious funds were going to drink and hookers. The person he had put the word to laughed, but had spread it verbatim. It was his signature to be alone when managing a hit: it was his way of flicking his hand at the police. He was already covered by distance: what need he for a mere alibi?

His purported need to save money had not brought sobriety. By the time the news had reached him, he was darkly drunk on old-home vodka. The magic potato, he drank like a real man: straight. Decades of practice enabled him to hold it well. What happened to his liver in consequence, he cared nothing about. The way medical science was proceeding, he would be able to buy another. He had more than enough funds for such a luxury.

So, he was thickly calm when he heard the disappointment. At first, he had scoffed when he heard from his partner Vladimir Levkov that the pig Romas, the mining-company CEO who acted like an incompetent stockbroker, said the authorities in this jurisdiction were impossible to bribe or corrupt. After some checking, he was surprised to realize it was so. It was nothing like his native land.

Being faced with a situation that was beyond his experience, he engaged in some thought. That so-called ‘playa’, he had found, was little more than talk. He had no record, nor any trouble with the law. Had he gone to the police, he would have been believed. They could check and find out he had been a good boy.

A don’s power is much more limited than commonly realized. Especially, in turf he did not own and where he was unknown as a protective godfather. In this city, Matvei Yegorovich Iskander was not known as anything but a big-spending foreigner. What to distinguish him from any Ameritrash who tries to buy friends with money and fails?

That ownership of this turf was denied him, as yet anyway. So, to attack he needed vulnerability in his target. Legal vulnerability was best, but that Edward Campbell had none. Social vulnerability often sufficed, but he was well-liked. He had no trace of the do-gooder in him, so the mafiosi’s favourite trick – casting the do-gooder either as a corrupt hypocrite or as an insufferable annoyance who would put any truly human man in jail if given the chance – was unavailable too. Iskander was not known and loved by the locale, so he could not get away with the occasional off-pattern execution. The police, not being corrupt, would not be persuaded to look the other way. It was much easier offing a do-gooder with a corrupt police force, as it was easy to convince them that any morally aggressive man was a Serpico in the making.

There was only one way to get back at this Edward: corrupt him. Iskander had accepted the facts as presented to him, but his dark opinion of Edward’s ethnicity had convinced him that the perfect plan was to manoeuvre him into becoming the criminal aggressor. His sources had told him of the buy order for the company Romas nominally headed and LIS had invested heavily in, namely Flow Resources. What had made this… angry was the repricing Romas had secured from that IIROC for that aggressive sell-off. It must have been the need to come up with the extra money he didn’t have to pay for his shares. Not having been told the crucial datum, that Edward had yelled at the discount-broker dunner that he wanted to sell instead, Iskander had assumed that the boy was in need of some quick cash.

Hence, the planting of the cocaine. He had hoped his boys had given Edward enough time to begin peddling it, which would make him a drug dealer and thus open to the code of the street. Failing that, Edward was supposed to pick up the gun and leave his fingerprints all over it. He brandishing the gun – better, shooting it like his hero in the movies – would have given the perfect justification for his boys to shoot Edward dead. They could plead self-defence and get away, and he would be no more.

Even if he had failed to act in a way that opened to his death, the sight of the cocaine and the gun would have brought out the ‘playa’ in him: Iskander had been sure of that. A young boy’s vanity: that was always the bait on the hook. Matvei Iskander was even surer that Edward had no experience with a gun. Just like those hapless drug-dealing pansies in that somewhat checkered movie Pulp Fiction, any shot of his would go wild. Having established himself as the aggressor, he would have been shot cleanly in a way the law would not object to.

But, again Iskander reminded himself, that option was closed.

Failing that neat resolution, his strutting would have led him to swallow the secondary hook. As an authentic ‘playa’, he would have been ashamed to go to the police. That left Iskander’s boys enough room to apply some serious muscle in the near future.

However, that Edward did not bite at all. The mission had been a failure; the hoped-for confrontation failed to transpire.

Still heavy-headed and somewhat heavy-tongued, Iskander realized that he had to resort to salvage. There was only one way to extract leverage from the failed set-up: make a Youtube of the video and portray that little fool as a hero of the street. If that failed to puff him up with vainglorious pride, then Matvei had only one other option. It was his sure way of victory through defeat.

Edward fell asleep easily, quick to shake off the incident once he concluded that he had been punk’d. He woke up late the next morning.

Today was a day to do as he pleased. Sometimes, particularly in winter time, he read an E-book. There were always rhymes and beats to pass the day. Had last night’s incidents not been a punk, he would have – but they now seemed inappropriate for the day. The weather was warming up and today was expected to be a nice sunny day. Somewhat incongruously for a young man, he decided as he was making himself ready to go to the park he frequented and feed the geese.

When he had first saw and heard of that custom, beloved by old white geezers, he had laughed but had not been repelled. As he grew into a man, it struck him as exotic. So, he himself did so at a large park that used to be an old farmhouse. It wasn’t that much of a drive, and only cost a few dollars’ worth of gas each way and as much bread as he wanted to buy. It was relaxing for him, and cheap. The birds went for the bread; it was simple, understandable and calming. After an ofttimes frustrating week watching the gyrations of the stock he followed, it soothed.

It also gave him something physical to do, which reading free magazines in the public library didn’t.

Happily dressing in black slacks with a thin Italian-leather black belt, with a brown-themed shirt covered by a neat workmanlike large-pocketed jacket, he got his keys and his smart phone. Not seeing any messages, he put the phone in his jacket pocket and easily exited his place for his car.

The phone vibrated after a few hours of him relaxing on a bench and depleting the bread loaf he had procured from a Price Slicers along the way. The sight of the geese, and a few quick mallards, pushing aside each other to get at the bread fascinated him. He listened to their honking and quacking contentedly, and at times threw one right in front of the smaller ducks so they could get some too. Same thing with the geese that missed out.

His bench was right by the river where the ducks swam along; the geese preferred walking on the grass. It wasn’t until the food was unleashed that it became apparent how many of them there were in the park. The sun’s shine reflected off the water, it being as nice a day as forecast.

The locals who frequented it were mostly Indian or Muslim. Edward had noticed something funny about the teenagers and young men who saw him. Some looked at him strangely, the opposite of disrespectful; they seemed almost scared. They whispered to each other. Several times, Edward saw the homeys here pull out their phones and text or tweet something while looking his way.

He didn’t connect what he saw to the previous night. Instead, he had dismissed them as the kind who thinks one black man looks like another. Mistaken identity, that’s what it had to be.

Until the phone rang, and he saw Roger’s familiar fat face looking at him with a little wonder.

“Edward, muh man, you’re famous.”

That brief call gave him an hour’s worth of wondering, as Roger took the bus over. Now, the homeboys who gawked at him had significance. It was really him that was being tweeted about; it was really he that people wanted to see.

Strangely, he was detached about him being “the man.” It had to have been a result of that punkin’, and that’s what restrained him from being thrilled. So he was punk’d. So he went along with the gag. So he didn’t bawl, or crack, or act stupid. It was only a punkin’.

Kids these days, they seemed to get excited over anything. He may be popular, but he was no hero. It may have gone viral, but it was just a prank!

It did take Roger that hour, so it was well into the afternoon when he plopped his carcass beside Edward on the bench.

“I meant what I said back then. People who just saw me as one of the boys are now asking me about you. I’m also getting texts from total strangers.”

It was time to get this out in the open. “For a punkin’?” Could it have been someone famous? If so, Edward didn’t see why or how.

Roger looked at him, straight-eyed, for a moment. “That’s not exactly what it was, old-timer.” Shifting his smart phone to Youtube, he showed the video which featured his friend and passed it over.

Not believing his eyes, Edward took in the title: “Ultimate Gangsta! Playa Faces Down Real Drug Dealer!”

He felt disconnected from the world. Viewing the video, the part which the phone’s bandwidth allowed him to see before having to download more, confirmed it was indeed him and the incident was indeed the same one from last night. Seeing the angle of the view, he deduced that it was that dark curly-haired dude that had been filming it.

Handing back the phone with only a small part of the video watched, he neglected to look at the number of views. It had already reached six figures.

Seeing Edward uninterested in himself, Roger canned the video. “So you say you were only punk`d. No veracity in it.”

Putting his phone back, he observed that it was the perfect time to go on Twitter and tell everyone.

Feeling hungry again, he was about to suggest they hit a donut store when he saw his friend withdraw his own phone out of his capacious pocket.

Edward, having engaged it, saw there was no video. Tensing up a little as he put it to his ear, he heard:

“Edward, this is your father.”

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