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Deacon King Kong (6. Bunch)

From the dirty window of a worn second-floor brownstone apartment, the great lights of Manhattan’s skyscrapers danced in the far distance. Inside the dark parlor, a tall, slim brown man, wearing a colorful African kente kufi cap and dashiki, held a copy of the Amsterdam News newspaper in his hands and roared with delight. Bunch Moon was thirty-one, head of Moon Rental Cars and Moon Steak N Go, and codirector of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Development Corporation, and was seated at a polished dining room table, grinning as he held the latest edition of the city’s major black newspaper and read the good news before him.

His laughter eased into a smile as he turned the page and finished the story he was reading. He folded the paper, fingered his goatee, then spoke softly to the twenty-year-old man seated across the table from him who was scratching at a crossword puzzle:

“Earl, Queens is burning, brother. The Jews are burning it up.”

Earl Morris, Bunch’s right-hand man, was clad in a leather jacket, the features of his smooth brown face etched in concentration as he worked his crossword. He had a pencil in his right hand and a lit cigarette in his left. He was having trouble negotiating both while trying to fill in the puzzle squares. Finally, he placed his cigarette in the ashtray and said without looking up, “Dig thaaaaaat.”

“The city wants to build a housing project in Forest Hills,” Moon said. “Them Jews out there are pissed, bro!”

“Dig thaaaaaat.”

“So Mayor Lindsay goes out there and they give him hell. He gets mad and calls ’em ‘fat Jewish broads.’” Bunch chuckled. “In front of the press and everything. Captain Marvel. You gotta love this guy.”

“Dig that.”

“Guess how many ran with it in their newspapers. Not one. Not the Times. Not the Post. Nobody. Just the Amsterdam News. He goes out there and insults the Jews and nobody says a drop about it. Except us. The Jews hate us, man! They don’t want no projects out there in Forest Hills.”

“Dig thaaat.”

“And the whiteys hate the Jews, because the Jews run everything. You dig?”

“Dig thaaaat.”

Bunch frowned.

“Can’t you say anything else?” he asked.

“Dig thaaat.”

“Earl!”

Earl, scratching at his crossword puzzle, snapped to and looked up.

“Huh?”

“Can’t you say anything else?”

“About what?”

“About what I just said. ’Bout the Jews running everything.”

Earl pursed his lips in silence, looking puzzled. He took a quick puff of his cigarette, then said softly, “Which Jews now?”

Bunch smirked. I’m surrounded by idiots, he thought. “How’s the kid from Cause Houses? The one who was shot yesterday.”

Earl sat up straight now, recovering. He could tell the boss was heating up. “His ear’s messed up,” he said quickly. “But he’s okay.”

“What’s his name again?”

“Deems Clemens.”

“Sharp kid. How long till he’s on his feet?”

“Maybe a week. Two at the outside.”

“How’s sales up there?”

“They fell off a little. But he got a man in place.”

“Did he get arrested after he was shot?”

“Naw. He wasn’t holding. He had a stash man. So the cops got nothing. Just the cash in his pockets.”

“Okay. Pay him back his cash. Then get him off his ass and back on the street again. He gotta defend his plazas.”

“He can’t.”

“Why not?”

“He ain’t all the way well yet, Bunch.”

“Shit, the nigger lost an ear, not his little Ray-Ray. He got a crew.”

“Dig thaaat.”

“Will you put a lid on the dig-that crap?” Bunch snapped. “Can he get back on his feet sooner? If his crew ain’t tight, his sales are gonna fall off quick. Can he keep his crew selling at least?”

Earl shrugged. “Bunch, it’s kinda hot over there. The cops are still looking for the shooter.”

“Who was it?”

“An old man. Some bum.”

“Narrow that down. They’re a dime a dozen in the Cause.”

“Dig th—” Earl coughed and cleared his throat as Bunch glared. Earl quickly hunched over the crossword puzzle, facedown, his chin inches from the page. “I’m using this here, Bunch,” he said hastily, pointing at the crossword puzzle, “to get outta that habit. Finding new words every day.”

Bunch sucked his teeth and turned away, heading to the window, his good humor gone now. He peered worriedly out to the street, first at the glistening Manhattan skyline in the distance, then at the tired, dilapidated brownstones lining the block. Piles of trash littered both sides of the street, along with several hulks of abandoned cars parked at the curbs in random fashion, hunched over like giant dead bugs, their motors missing and tires gone. He watched a group of kids playing atop one of the piles, vaulting like frogs from garbage bags to piles of refuse and ending at a broken fire hydrant. Amid the garbage and refuse along the bleak street, in front of the brownstone sat Bunch’s gleaming black Buick Electra 225, which stood out in front of his place like a polished diamond.

“This fucking city,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” Earl said, not trusting himself to speak further.

Bunch ignored that, his mind churning. “The cops won’t bother with Deems,” he said. “There’s not a peep about the shooting in the papers. Not even the Amsterdam News. The Jews in Queens is hot news now. And the riot in Brownsville.”

“What riot?”

“Don’t you read the papers? Last week a kid got shot out there.”

“White kid or black kid?”

“Bro, is your head soundproof? It’s Brownsville, nigger!”

“Oh yeah, yeah, that’s old news,” Earl said. “I read that. Wasn’t he robbing an old man or something?”

“Who cares. The riots draw all the cop muscle from the Seventy-Sixth Precinct. That’s good for us. We need the cops to stay there till we straighten out our business in the Cause. Tell you what: Call up my Steak N Go shop and tell Calvin and Justin to take the day off. Tell them to get flowers for the family, and cake and hot coffee. Have ’em take that stuff out to wherever the riot and protesters are meeting, wherever their headquarters is. Probably some church. Tell ’em to bring some chicken, too, now that I think on it.” He chuckled bitterly. “No ideas flow through them Martin Luther King Cadillac types till they get some chicken. Call Willard Johnson to help set it up. He’s still over there, ain’t he?”

“Will called last night.”

“About what?”

“Said he was a little short on money from that . . . whatever that thing is. The city thing we doing, the poverty program thing . . .”

“The Redevelopment Authority?”

“Yeah. He needs a little dough. For office rent and electric. Just to help him over the hump.”

Bunch snorted. “Shit. The only hump that nigger is interested in got thighs like Calpurnia. He likes them big country girls.”

Earl was silent as Bunch began to pace. “I gotta tie up that business at the Cause Houses. Tell me more about the guy who shot Deems.”

“Ain’t nothing to him. Some old guy got drunk and shot him. A deacon at one of them churches out there.”

Bunch stopped pacing. “Why didn’t you tell me that before?”

“You ain’t ask.”

“What kind of church? Big church or little church?”

“Bro, I don’t know. They got fourteen churches for every man, woman, and child in the Cause. Some little nothing church, I heard.”

Bunch seemed relieved. “All right. Find the guy. Find his church. First we deal with him. We gotta choke him hard or we’ll have every dope slinger in South Brooklyn pushin’ in on our corners. Make it look like a mugging. Steal his money if he got any. Cut him a little. But not too hard. We don’t wanna get his church people in a snit. After that, we go to the church as the Redevelopment Authority and say how sorry we are about all this crime and horror in our community and so forth. We cool ’em out by buying ’em some choir books or Bibles and promise them some redevelopment city money. But we gotta straighten out that old guy first.”

“Why don’t we let the kid out there take care of him? He says he can.”

“From his hospital bed?”

“He’s home now.”

“I can’t run my business waiting for some kid to pull his Band-Aids off. Go over there and take care of the old man, before the Brownsville thing gets cold.”

Earl frowned. “That ain’t our territory, Bunch. I don’t know all the players over there. Ain’t that what we paying Joe Peck for, him being our supplier and all? He got the cops over there in his pocket. He knows everybody over there. Whyn’t you call him?”

Bunch shrugged. “I did. I told him we’d take care of it ourselves.”

Earl tried to hide his surprise. “Why?”

Bunch glanced at the window, then decided to take a chance. “I got a plan to get clear of him. Get our own supplier.”

Earl was silent for a moment, contemplating. That was not the kind of information Bunch passed on lightly. It put him a little deeper into Bunch’s thing. He wasn’t sure if that was exactly good or safe—safe being the operative word. “Peck is Gorvino family, Bunch.”

“I don’t give a fuck if he’s George Washington family. The Gorvinos ain’t what they used to be. They don’t like Peck no more anyway,” Bunch said.

“Why not?”

“He’s too wild.”

“Dig thaaaat,” Earl said, ignoring a hot glance from Bunch. He was distracted. He needed time to think this one through, because he didn’t know what to say and he felt himself sliding into the hot seat. The Cause Houses made him nervous. Other than making money and dope drop-offs once a week, he was a stranger in those projects. He fingered his chin thoughtfully. “Even if the Gorvinos are souring on Peck, there’s the Elephant to deal with. A brother could end up in the harbor wearing cement shoes fucking with the Elephant. Remember Mark Bumpus? He crossed the Elephant. What was left of him got tossed in the harbor without instructions. I heard they picked him out the water in pieces.”

“Bumpus was a hardhead. A smuggler. The Elephant don’t traffic in dope.”

“Yeah, but he got the docks.”

“Just his dock. There’s other docks over there.”

“The Elephant’s funny about the Cause, Bunch. It’s his turf.”

“Who says?”

“Everybody. Even Peck and the Gorvinos don’t monkey with the Elephant.”

“The Elephant ain’t Gorvino family, Earl. Remember that. He works with them, but he’s mostly on his own. If it ain’t cigarettes or tires or refrigerators, he ain’t interested.”

“I hope so,” Earl said, scratching his ear, his face etched in doubt. He squashed his cigarette and fiddled with his pencil. “Bumpus ain’t the only one who ended up finding Negro freedom at the bottom of the harbor care of the Elephant. That’s some party I hear, when that wop gets mad.”

“Get your subway tokens out and get rolling, would you? I told you, we ain’t gonna touch the Elephant. He ain’t interested in our business. Him and Peck ain’t tight. So long as we take care of our business quiet, we’ll be all right. This is our chance to ease Peck out and make some big dollars.”

“How we gonna get our supply without Peck?” Earl asked.

“That’s my business.” Bunch sat down at the table, removed his kente kufi African cap, and ran a hand over his thick, dark hair. “Go over to the Cause Houses and clean up the old man. Bust his eye out. Break his arm. Set fire to his clothes. But don’t ice him. Just soften him up like it’s a mugging gone sour. Then we give his church a little donation from our redevelopment fund, and that’s it.”

“Shit, Bunch, I’d rather Peck do it. Or Deems.”

Bunch stared at him grimly. “Is you losing heart, bro?” he said softly. “If you are, I understand, because business is gonna get heavy soon.”

“It ain’t about heart. I ain’t for beating up no old man, then paying his church.”

“Since when did you grow a conscience?”

“It ain’t that.”

“Maybe I should call in Harold.”

For the first time, Earl, who had been slouched in his chair at the table, sat straight up. “What you wanna let that nigger outta the cage for?”

“We might need an extra hand.”

“You wanna tighten up the old man or you wanna nuke the projects?”

“Where’s Harold living these days anyway?” Bunch asked.

Earl sulked silently for a good minute. “Virginia,” he said finally. “It should be Alaska after that last job. Fucking firebug.”

“That’s the kind of talent we might need if Peck gets mad.”

Earl rubbed his chin with the tips of his fingers, brooding. Bunch clapped the young man on the shoulders with both hands from behind, then massaged Earl’s shoulders. Earl stared ahead, nervous now. He had seen what Bunch could do close up with a knife, and for a moment a fleeting panic gripped him, then passed as Bunch spoke: “I know how you are about them church folk. Your ma was church folk, wasn’t she?”

“Don’t mean nothing.”

Bunch ignored that. “Mine was too. We was all church folk,” he said. “Church is a good thing. A great thing, really. Building up our community. Thank God.” He lowered his head to Earl’s ear. “We ain’t tearing down our community, brother. We’re building it up. Look at all the businesses I got. The jobs we’re providing. The help we give people. Is the white man opening car washes? Is he running car-rental places? Restaurants? Is he giving us jobs?” He pointed to the window, the filthy street, the abandoned cars, the dead brownstones. “What’s the white man doing for us out here, Earl? Where’s he at?”

Earl stared ahead, silent.

“We’ll give the church a bunch of money,” Bunch said. “It’ll work out. You in or out, bro?”

It was an affirmation, not a question. “Course I’m in,” Earl muttered.

Bunch sat down at the table again, leafing through the Amsterdam News, and then nodded Earl toward the door.

“Straighten out that old man. Clean him up good. Lop off one of his nuts if you have to. I don’t care what you do. Send a clear message, and we’ll leave Harold for another day.”

“That assumes Harold knows the difference between day and night,” Earl said.

“Just get it done,” Bunch said.

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