The elevators at Kemper Projects were death traps, always getting stuck, rattling and shuddering on the way up, free falling on the way down. They smelled just barely better than the stairwells, and up until a few weeks ago, I never had much use for them. That was before Beans wanted me to join his crew.
Beans was a legend around Kemper. I heard that he once made twenty G’s rigging a charity basketball tournament. Dude drove a Benz that changed colors depending how the sun hit it and smiled at the cops because they had nothing on him.
Mom always worried about what I was doing when I left our place. She was scared I’d get sucked in by Beans and his crew. But I could’ve have never approached a guy like Beans. I mean, yeah, we were broke—everyone was broke around Kemper—but those dudes were savages.
With Mom working all the time, I started skipping school. A day here and there, it was nice to sleep late or watch the Karate movies on Channel Two. Sometimes, I’d play ball or just hang near the park or at the bodega where Mr. Wi was running us off. That’s where I was, buying some Now and Laters when Beans walked in.
He was tall and thin, in one of his trademark jumpsuits. “How you doing, Jack?”
I swallowed, struggling for words. Sweating because wow, Beans knew my name. I eyed the gold on his cane. Corey told me Beans had thrown a guy off the roof over a crap game. I didn’t know about that. To be honest, his smile put me at ease.
He said he had a job for me. And yeah, by job, I knew what he meant, but man, who was gonna say no to Beans? The next thing I knew I was riding up to his place, the elevator shaking at our feet, feeling…powerful.
Beans’ place was bigger than ours, with a view that made me dizzy. There were people all over the place inside, sprawled out on couches, a big screen television with the game on, the stereo thumped with speakers up to my shoulders, but Beans didn’t seem to notice. He showed me to the table, past the sprawling ferns and the pictures of African tribes on the wall. Not something I would have expected.
A lady with long fine hair and shining brown eyes introduced herself as Delia. Her voice was soft but deep, and it made me feel like a child and a man at the same time. Her smile brought me in, insulated me from the yells and teasing from the crew. She said she liked my dimples and I blushed. Beans was still smiling, but his sharp eyes told a different story, scraping across my soul.
Delia drifted back to the kitchen. Beans got down to business and twenty minutes later I left with two-hundred dollars in my pocket. I had no idea what I’d tell Mom. I wanted to help with bills but knew she’d never take that money. I pushed it out of mind and focused on the package I had to deliver.
Easy money. At least it seemed that way at the time. The next day I was back at Beans’ place and this time it was Delia who handed me a bag, whispered in my ear that there was more coming. Enough to make more money than Mom did in a week.
The money. Delia in my dreams. I was thinking straight. I started coming up when Beans was napping. Took the stairs, climbing over the drunks, sucking wind with each flight. I looked around, thinking how Beans had risen to the top. Delia fed me, told me I was special, offered me money.
Then I stole the jewelry. Big mistake.
First, school called. Then Mom found a baggy and flushed the weed, seeds and stems and all. She took the jewelry, shook it in my face, her voice breaking as she threatened to call the cops.
Cops. How could she call the cops? How could she not appreciate the money I was bringing in? Did she expect me to be like her, working all the time only to come home exhausted and angry? Right. I wasn’t going back to school, I went back to Beans’ place, where Delia’s skin smelled like vanilla, her breath a warm brush of cinnamon. Until she asked about the necklace.
I knew I was dead. I still can’t say why I took it. But Delia’s eyes went dark, her mouth tight as Beans walked in from the other room, calm and cool but with a gun in his waist. He smiled when he saw me looking at it.
Run. I ran down the steps, knowing Beans was too old. But he came. He and his crew. I leaped down flights of steps, stumbled over the trash and bodies. One, then two then ten flights down. And I could him calling after me the whole time.
I hit our floor, hurling myself down the hallway, screaming for Mom to open the door as the other doors slammed shut, chains hitting locks. I stumbled just as our door flew open, a figure shooting past me with a kitchen knife at her side.
The elevator doors wrenched open. That’s when Mom lunged, catching Beans right in the heart. He crumpled, a wilted stalk, eyes doused, dead before the blood hit his shoes.
The cops stormed in, raising guns when they saw Beans’ crew. I hit the floor, where I spent the next half hour trying to figure out whether or not I was dreaming.
Later, when it was all over, after Mom had dropped the bloody knife and stood staring straight ahead like she’d come out of a spell, the cops sat her down and bought her a coffee (I think they considered her a hero). They wrapped a blanket over her shoulders and even walked her through a self-defense story. It wasn’t a dream, at least I didn’t think. And after all I’d seen, I just wanted to go back to school.
Big bad Beans was dead, his crew arrested. I’m not sure what happened to Delia, but for now Kemper projects was safe. Well, safe-r.
Those elevators were still a death trap.