“Turn on your stomach.”
Silently the boy refused. His trembling brown frame was covered only by a pair of white briefs.
“Boy, you better turn yo motherfucking ass over now!”
Still the boy refused to obey. He knew that his submission was needed for his stepfather to attain the level of power over him that he craved, but he couldn’t submit to the man’s will.
His stepfather tried a different tack. “C’mon, boy. Take this shit like a man. You want to be man, don’t you? Men take what’s coming to them. So gone head and turn on over so that we can get this shit over with.”
The boy shook his eight-year-old head.
His stepfather ran his hand over his straightened hair.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about. That shit right there. I’m sick of this little no-talking role you be trying to play. I done heard you talk plenty when you be with them little niggers down there in the alley. You little slick bastards is always scheming up on something to get into. Now you want to sit here and act like you can’t talk. That’s some bullshit! Your mother wants me to make a man out of you, and I’ll be damned if I don’t!”
The boy already knew this beast couldn’t make him into a man. He knew that a man wouldn’t roll over and take a whupping. Not that he was scared of being beaten. That was nothing new. Before he died, his father had administered his fair share of those, but they were always tempered with love and understanding. This man had none of that in him. He wasn’t trying to make him a better person as he claimed—he simply reveled in beating on someone who was powerless against him. More than anything in the world, Shawn missed his father. That quiet, strong man with the receding hairline and thick glasses was gone forever. He managed to make the newspapers on his way out though. An out-of-work construction worker who tried to rob a currency exchange and ended up on a slab in the morgue. Where was the justice in that?
The first blow from the belt landed on his shoulder.
“You know you stole that two dollars out your teacher’s desk drawer! Now you might as well turn over and take your whupping! You not opening your mouth is the same as lying. The only thing worse than a liar is a thief and you both.”
Where was the justice in this? Shawn knew that he didn’t steal the money. He knew who took it, but he would never tell; it just wasn’t in him to snitch. And there was no way that he could make his teacher or this buffoon understand that after his father was killed trying to rob that place, he made a vow that he would never steal anything in his life.
The boy writhed in pain from the lick, but he still refused to turn onto his belly.
“Boy, I said turn yo black ass over! I ain’t gone tell you that shit no more!”
As his stepfather hollered these words six inches from his face, he could smell the potent mixture of malt liquor and cheap wine on his breath. He looked at his stepfather with disdain. This was the man whom his mother had chosen to love in his dead father’s place. An unemployed cardboard box maker to replace an unemployed, dead construction worker. A man whose big dream was to buy a Cadillac with the money he was waiting to get from a settlement from the cardboard factory for a fraudulent back injury. This man who spent most of his day sleeping in the bed that his father had bought. The sick bastard even dared to wear some of his father’s old clothes.
The blow landed across his naked thighs. Its force made him scoot backward on the bed a bit and rub his thighs, but he didn’t turn onto his stomach. Tears jumped into his eyes, but he willed himself not to release them.
The belt slapped across his arms and curled itself around to his bare back. Two large tears dropped from his eyes. A large welt rose instantly on his back and his small brown arms. The boy could hear the Commodores’ “Zoom” playing in the living room. He knew it was his mother’s favorite song. He liked the lyrics too. Some shit about “flying away.” He also knew that his mother had turned the record player volume up so loud because she didn’t want to hear him getting beaten. She would be sitting in the window seat with her favorite cup full of Thunderbird wine, listening to her favorite song while her husband beat the shit out of her only son. Later, much later, she would sneak into his room and tend to his wounds. She would rub his head, kiss him on the forehead, and beg him to try and get along with his stepfather. She would tell him how much she loved him and how one day soon she was going to take him and his younger twin sisters and leave this man.
“Little nigger, you better lay on your motherfucking stomach or I’m gone beat your ass just like that! That’s yo damn problem now, you can’t do what I tell you to do! You act like you slow or something! You little motherfucker, you just like yo punk ass daddy—a fucking thief. That’s how he got his dumb ass killed, trying to steal somebody else’s shit!”
Two licks in quick succession. One landed on his shoulder, the other on his neck. This time he had to groan in pain. He closed his tear-filled eyes, balled his hands into fists, and pounded them into his thighs. He was angry with himself for allowing that groan to slip out.
“So you ain’t gone lay down, huh? Well, that’s okay, you little fucker. I’ll beat yo ass just like that!”
“son of bitch.”
Inside Shawn screamed. He screamed for his dead father. He screamed for his mother to protect him. And he screamed for himself. But not a sound would he allow to cross his lips.
The five men walked into the rear room of the candy store and video game parlor. They all took seats around the wooden table. The surface of the table was scarred with cigarette burns and the ancient carvings of men’s and boys’ names. There were no formalities among the old friends as they made themselves comfortable. There was plenty of trash talking and playful chiding in the group. Well, all of them except one.
Though Shawn “Solemn Shawn” Terson laughed lightly at some of the jokes, for the most part he preferred to nurse his Dr Pepper. He was dressed plainly, as was his custom—blue jeans, a black Mecca sweatshirt, and a pair of soft-bottom Kenneth Cole shoes.
Fresh from working out at Bally’s gym, Dante “Tay” Thompson was attired in a black Ultrasuede Sean John jogging suit with a pair of all-white Air Force Ones on his feet. His average height was belied by his great physical strength, which was a huge source of pride for him. When it came to bench-pressing, Dante could hold his own with Big Ant, who was a hulking six-foot-three, two-
hundred-ninety-pound chunk of darkness. The large round belly that Anthony “Big Ant” Hamilton sported often fooled men into thinking that he was weak, but in the end they found out that his arms and chest were as firm as his belly. Murderman and Mumps though, between the two of them, had never lifted a weight. Thomas “Mumps” Murphy believed that any kind of physical activity would mess up his perfect manicure. Sweating was against his religion, he would often say. Though he was proficient in most of the areas of ghetto vice, gambling was his passion—high-stakes gambling. Today he wore a milk white Coogi sweater with the matching hat. Coogi jeans and a pair of white Coogi tennis shoes completed his outfit. His top teeth were all platinum and a platinum link necklace with a diamond frosted crucifix hung around his neck.
As always, Michael “Murderman” Moore resembled a coiled, poisonous viper ready to strike at any moment. The man actually felt naked if he didn’t have a gun on his person or at least close enough to get to at all times. He wore a black Adidas hooded sweatshirt with a pair of black Levi’s 550 jeans. His feet were kicked up on the table and on them was a pair of white-and-black Adidas shell toes. His shoulder-length hair was braided into an intricate pattern. A pair of black Adidas baseball batting gloves hung out of the back pocket of his Levi’s. Between the laughing and joking his head swiveled back and forth; he never truly let down his guard even among his friends.
On the other hand Big Ant was totally relaxed. The big man wore a coverall suit lacquered with oily stains and a well-worn pair of Timberland boots. His hair was in direct contrast to his unkempt clothes. It was neatly shaped into a short Afro with a chiseled goatee complementing his dark facial features. Laughter danced in his dark gray eyes as he joked with his friends. He looked over at Solemn Shawn and noticed him glance at his Kenneth Cole wristwatch.
“All right, c’mon, y’all, let’s get on with this,” Big Ant remarked, taking the hint from his friend. “I got to finish putting these tie-rods on this deuce and a quarter so I can get it to the pipe shop tomorrow.”
Mumps commented, “Man, you bought another one of those raggedy old cars. Nigga, you need to stop being cheap and buy you some new shit.”
“Mumbo, I can’t fit in most of that new shit. Plus that computerized shit is built to self-destruct two to three years after you get it. The injectors go bad, them fucking computer sensors fry, and they all made of fiberglass. Now take my ’74 Chevy or my ’76 Bonneville. All steel, big engines, Holley carbs, Flomaster pipes, enough room for a big man and a bucket of chicken.”
All of the men laughed, even Solemn Shawn. Rubbing his freshly faded head, Solemn Shawn silently agreed with Big Ant, but that was another matter for a different time.
“Settle down,” Solemn Shawn said.
The group’s eyes focused on their leader.
“Sorry about the tie-rods, Ant. This is pretty important. First order of business is your new phones. I got Tay to splurge and get the ones with the color screens and you can add cameras and stuff. Go pick them up from Drisell’s shop. Everything’s paid for so don’t let that old dude try to slick a few bucks out of you.”
Solemn Shawn continued. “We been doing this thing for close to twenty years. I’m thirty-three years old. I guess that I’ve come to a point in my life where I realize that this good run that we’ve had has got to come to an end one day. Police aren’t getting any dumber, cats are snitching like never before, and they’re making new laws every day to get rid of us. The odds are more and more in their favor. I’ve given it plenty of thought and I realize that one day soon I’m gone have to give this shit up.”
“SS, you sound like you finta die or something,” Mumps teased.
“It’s nothing like that, Mumbo, I’m just tired. We haven’t struggled like we have all these years to end up some has-beens. Our generation is dead. Locked up, doped up, cracked up, or dead. The young cats coming up behind us don’t have any respect or understanding for the game. It’s getting redundant.”
“You right about that shit,” Big Ant growled. “These fucking shorties ain’t got no respect for shit. All they want to do is kick shit off, then do a drive-by. Then when they get caught, these little motherfuckers tell on everybody.”
Murderman interjected, “All these young punks think that they killers. They want to air out the block and they want everybody to know that they did the shit. No-shooting niggas be hitting innocent kids and shit.”
“That’s that fucking rap music,” Dante said. “Ever since niggas started all that killing on them fucking records, all of a sudden these fucking kids think it’s a game to take somebody life. All they want to do is shoot guns, rock ice, and ride on dubs. But that’s all they been seeing from every angle. They hearing it and seeing it in them damn videos. They ain’t got no positive images.”
Solemn Shawn contended, “I’m not going to get up on the pulpit, but I think it’s up to us to show them some positive images. If we don’t start trying to help the kids, they are going to keep heading down the wrong paths. We don’t need another drug dealer, we need some pharmacists; we don’t need another thug, we need an orthodontist, a stockbroker, a school counselor, a coach, a yacht captain, a world-class chef, a chess champion.”
Murderman asked, “All the shorties want to be is the next Allen Iverson or the next Jigga. They don’t see no glamour in that shit that you named. So how is you gone change they thinking?”
“I don’t know if we can. But recently I was contacted by State Representative Coleman Washington. He dropped a little something in my ear about trying to build a community center.”
“But we already got a community center, SS. That little joint on 71st Street,” Mumps countered.
“That’s true, Mumbo. But that one is small potatoes. It isn’t accessible to anyone outside of that neighborhood. They have next to no funding and limited activities. It’s stuck in the middle of rival gangs. Basically the place is ancient and off the beaten track. If you were a traveler and you were wounded, do you think that you would get help on a back-country road, or on a main thoroughfare? I would take my chances on that main street. The way this guy was talking it would be the mother of all community centers. All of the things that I’ve mentioned and more will be taught there.”
The group was silent after Solemn Shawn’s speech.
Murderman vocalized the group’s fears. “SS, what you finta do? Disband the Apostles?”
“No, nothing like that, M1. This isn’t some movie plot. I know the family won’t be completely legal in five years.”
Solemn Shawn’s reference to Michael Corleone’s line from The Godfather drew brief laughs from his crew. “No, it’s just like I said. I’m tired of this shit. I not asking anyone else to be. That’s just how I feel. This is kind of the last thing I want to do before I retire. I don’t have the exact detail on just how much this thing is going to cost, but me and Dante will find that out when we meet with Washington. I know this type of thing isn’t cheap, so we’re going to need all the help that we can get. Any questions?”
Excerpted from The Apostles by Y. Blak Moore. Copyright © 2004 by Y. Blak Moore. Excerpted by permission of One World/Strivers Row, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.