As if things aren’t bad enough in Penns River, development and funding of a new religious-themed mall grinds to a halt when heavily-armed assassins cut down five leaders of the town’s fledgling drug trade while eating lunch in the food court. The television minister behind the mall has associates not normally associated with a ministry, outside drug gangs may be muscling into town, and the local mob boss could have an angle of his own. The cops have this and all the usual local activity to contend with in a story that extends beyond the borders of Penns River.
About the author
Dana King owns two nominations for the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award, for A Small Sacrifice (2013) and again two years later for The Man in the Window. His novel Grind Joint was noted by Woody Haut in the L.A. Review of Books as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013. A short story, “Green Gables,” appeared in the anthology Blood, Guts, and Whiskey, edited by Todd Robinson. Other short fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, New Mystery Reader, A Twist of Noir, Mysterical-E, and Powder Burn Flash.
Dana lives in Maryland with The Beloved Spouse.
Find Dana King online …
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/D
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.co
An excerpt from the third book in the Penns River series by Dana King, Resurrection Mall…
A lot colder at midnight than when Greg Twardzik pulled into the Allegheny Casino lot at a quarter to eight. Greg shoved his hands into his coat pockets and hoped his gloves were in the car. The breeze drilled a small hole dead center of his forehead, the hairs in his nose freezing together. It smelled cold, like when he re-stocked the ice cream freezer at Giant Eagle.
Tonight Greg’s monthly run to the Allegheny. A true grind joint: slots and a bar, shitty restaurant. The unofficial slogan: Give us your money and get the fuck out. Greg saved his spare change each month the way geezers saved stale bread, except Greg fed the slots instead of pigeons. “Spare change” had an expansive definition in Greg’s mind. Stop at Sooki’s for a beer; beer cost two and a quarter; pay with a five. Tip Frankie a quarter, the other two-fifty is spare change. Next beer, another five. Take the kids to McDonald’s on his weekend with them, pay for twelve bucks worth of food with a twenty: eight bucks spare change. Saved up ninety-two seventy-five in January, rounded to a hundred.
He’d come out the wrong door. Again. All the exits looked alike to Greg from inside. He’d get turned around looking for a promising slot, lose track of where he came in by the second scotch. He at least remembered parking his Pontiac looking straight across Leechburg Road at Wendy’s. Came out on the Rabbit’s Foot side, by the big fences with ivy or kudzu or whatever growing on them, a barrier between the casino and the residential neighborhood butting up against it. He should have taken the Horseshoe exit. Now he had to walk halfway around the building to get there.
The night started well. Hit for about fifty bucks half an hour in. The plan had been to put the fifty in his pocket and play until the hundred he came with was gone; go home with the winnings. A loser’s mentality so early in the night. A jackpot that fast, there had to be more. There were two. Eight bucks within half an hour—big night brewing—then sixteen at eleven o’clock, about the time he started to wonder how much he had left. Hit the cash machine on his way to get the third drink and took out fifty—no, a hundred; still had twenty in his pocket. So he came with one hundred dollars, won seventy-four he should have stashed away. Lost the original hundred plus eighty from the ATM to go down one-eighty, not counting the seventy-four of house money he’d blown, which shouldn’t count, it not being his money. At least he had a good time.
He found the aisle facing Wendy’s, started walking. His car should be on the right, about three-quarters of the way back. Halfway there he still didn’t see it. Probably blocked by the Ford Expedition he’d had to squeeze past, left wheels dead on the line. It wasn’t.
Must be the wrong row, but how many of those big goddamn Expeditions could there be in this part of the lot? Greg turned his back on the Ford to face perpendicular to the line running from the casino to Wendy’s, capture his bearings. Pointed at Wendy’s and blinked his eyes. He’d nibbled the fourth drink, hearing rumors the local cops were cracking down on drunk driving. Coffee not a bad idea, once he found the car. He turned with great care and pointed at the Horseshoe entrance. It occurred to him the Expedition he’d parked next to might have left, and he was looking at a different one. He’d been careful to line himself up on Wendy’s and the casino entrance, could be off a little after five drinks.
Tried a row to his left, then a row to his right. Freezing his ass off, he recalled something else he’d heard standing at the bar waiting for the sixth drink, one for the road. Paid attention to the barmaid who told him to be careful about the DUIs—paying attention to her tits more than what she said—a guy to his right bitching about cars stolen out of the casino lot. Greg almost asked, thought why would the guy still come if he thought cars were being stolen?
Focused now, expanding his search with each circuit. Trying the aisle he thought, then one on either side, then two on either side until he realized the guy at the bar wasn’t some jagov blowing smoke. Cars were being stolen out of the Allegheny Casino lot, and Greg’s was one of them.
Ben Dougherty pushed back from the kitchen table. “Enough. Mom, that was great.”
Ellen Dougherty smiled. “There’s plenty to take home. I’ll pack you a bum bag when I clean up in here.”
Some things never changed. Doc—only his family called him Ben, or Benny—in his late thirties, still came home for Sunday dinner. Sat in the same place as when he’d lived there. Ellen sat closest to the sink and stove, ready to spring into action if anyone looked like they might be thinking about wanting anything. Tom sat across from her, turned his head one-eighty to see the television in the living room, like he’d done for almost forty years.
“Bum bags” an echo of Ellen’s mother, who never let her grandchildren go home without a poke containing at least a couple of apples and a Hershey bar. A phrase coined during the Depression, when she’d given bum bags to people worse off than her. At least she did until her husband lost his job at Scaife’s and it became all they could do to keep from asking other families for handouts.
“What else can I get you?” Ellen still cleared the table like the waitress she’d been. Tom pulled a half-empty dish of cucumbers and sour cream closer to his plate. He’d miscalculated and not finished before Ellen started cleaning. The rest of his meal would be a competition.
“I haven’t even started digesting what I just ate, Mom. I have no idea what I want next. A nap, maybe.”
“I heard Dickie Laverty had his house broke into this week.” Tom stabbed the last two slices of cucumber, pushed the dish into Ellen’s sphere of influence. Wrapped a finger along the edge of his dinner plate, where scraps of roast beef and mashed potatoes remained.
“His shed,” Doc said. “Took his lawn mower, snow blower, leaf blower, chain saw. All the outdoor power tools.” Doc knew, being a Penns River police detective.
“Anything you can do about it?”
“We took the report. Poked around.” Tom looked up from his plate, piece of roast hanging from his fork. Doc said, “What would you like us to do? Someone takes his stuff out of town and sells it? Hell, someone sells it in town. Even if he recognizes it, can he prove it’s his?”
“He knows what his riding mower looks like. He just bought it last spring.”
“Did he write down the serial number? He can’t take us up to some guy’s house, point to a mower and say, ‘that’s mine,’ and expect us to take it back and haul the other guy off to jail.”
Tom chewed, unsatisfied. “You can do something. People shouldn’t have to worry about having their things taken like that.”
“I’m open to suggestions. I’m one of the guys who has to tell these people there’s nothing we can do for them except write an insurance report. Town this size, half the people who’ve been robbed know a cop. We still can’t help them. Doesn’t mean we like it.”
Ellen scraped and rinsed. Doc snatched a stray piece of Syrian bread from a plate destined for sterilization. Tom chewed and drank ice tea, said, “Seems to me there’s a hell of a lot more of it than there used to be.”
“I don’t know if there’s a hell of a lot more.” Doc munched the bread without anything on it. “Be honest. You only care because Dickie lives practically across the street.”
“There’s a hell of a lot more around here,” Tom said. “This used to be a quiet neighborhood. I can’t remember the last time we had a break-in. Now we’ve had three in the past few months. I don’t mean to pick on you. Someone has to do something, and you’re the police.”
“Three in three months after none in—what?—five years? That’s only three in the past five years,” Doc said.
“I’m making a point,” Tom said. “Don’t cover it up with statistics.”
“You’re right,” Doc said. “I shouldn’t’ve done that. Still, three in three months? What you call a neighborhood runs down past the ball fields and up over the hill where the dairy farm used to be. That covers a lot of territory. They get that many in three weeks down the Flats. Twice that downtown.”
“Yeah, but—I don’t know—this has never been that kind of neighborhood.”
“And it probably still isn’t. Three in three months might be the law of averages catching up. Might be five more years till the next one.”
“You think so?”
“No. Not unless we catch the guy.”
“So what’s the answer?” Tom said. “I got a lot of stuff in my shed. Most of it’s old, which means I can’t replace it with what insurance will pay.”
“You really worried?”
“Shouldn’t I be?”
The answer required diplomacy. “I can’t say you should. Can’t say you shouldn’t, either.” Tom’s valuable equipment stored either in the garage attached to the house or in a shed thirty feet away. A motion-sensitive light on the house illuminated the shed’s entrance. Neighbors knew Tom kept a .22 carbine handy to shoot coons and other varmints rifling his trash can. On the other hand, Doc did not want to face his father if he said not to worry and anything happened. “If you want, I know a guy can fix you up with a little siren, car alarm sort of thing. We can wire it into the shed door for you.”
“No one should have to do all that.” Ellen lingered on the periphery of all conversations, commented when she felt the need. “People aren’t safe anymore.”
“Don’t get carried away,” Doc said. “Property crime is up. Things get stolen. It’s not like people aren’t safe in their homes.
“We don’t know that,” Tom said. “Not with people’s houses getting broken into.”
“You know,” Doc said. “I just told you. I’m kind of an authority on crime in Penns River. All the break-ins have either been outbuildings, or when no one’s home.”
“So what’s Stush doing about it?”
“What he can.” Stanley “Stush” Napierkowski the chief of police and a Dougherty family friend since before Doc’s existence. The only person not a blood relative who could call him “Benny” and get away with it. Part of the reason Doc came back to The River after nine years as an MP was to work with his “Uncle Stush.” “Christ, Dad, you’ve lived here all your life. If we put every cop on the force on duty, we’d have about one per square mile. That spreads a zone defense pretty thin. What would you like us to do?”
Tom didn’t have an answer. Doc knew he wouldn’t and didn’t like throwing down gauntlets. He also didn’t like defending the indefensible when it wasn’t his fault.
Tom said, “Well, then we need more cops.”
Getting serious now. Complaining about the number and expense of government employees Tom’s favorite topic, in a virtual tie with the Steelers’ running game and the government in Washington. Doc couldn’t help himself. “Cops are city employees, you know. It’ll cost you.”
“Why the hell should it cost me? We only have this crime because of the casino, and we only got the goddamn thing so it would cut our taxes.”
“If it makes you feel any better, the casino’s not crazy about us, either.”
“They got two or three cars a week going missing from their lot.”
Tom brought his right hand into its “making a point” position, index finger extended. Pulled it back. “You’re telling me the casino can’t get good police service, either? Where’s all the money going they’re supposed to bring into town?”
“Ask the mayor next time you have a zoning meeting,” Doc said. “Let me know what he says.”
“Aw, hell. I did. Last time. About why we can’t get this street plowed and salted like we used to.”
“What’d he say?”
Tom took a beat. “I got the runaround. He talked for five minutes and it all made sense until I got in the car and couldn’t remember what the hell he said.”
“The mayor’s good like that.’
“He’s up against it. Town’s not set up for what’s happened the last ten years. He’s doing the best he can.”
“He sure did the best he could to get Danny Hecker the green light to build the casino.”
“You can’t fault him. Everyone wanted it. Town needs the money.”
“Last I heard we don’t get much more in property tax than when we had a deserted building there, and most of the people who work there don’t live here. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but Hecker drives a hard bargain and Chet Hensarling isn’t exactly a master negotiator.” The most charitable explanation Doc had, not wanting to discuss what else might have been involved to get the casino in Penns River and not some other town as bad off. “A lot of this always comes along with an operation like a casino. Gamblers aren’t model citizens.”
“It’s regular people going in there, not gamblers. All they have are slot machines.”
“You been in there?”
“Hell, no. You know I don’t gamble.”
Doc let that sit, not so long it would stink. “Sixty-something year-old women in there grabbing two-four-six slot machines in a row, dropping quarters in them like Martians are in Natrona. I saw a guy didn’t know his way around sit at one while some old biddy collected at the other end of the line. I almost had to drag the bitch off him. These people drink too much, they’re more inclined to use recreational drugs, and there are always things like loan businesses and hookers around them.”
“No one said anything about that.”
“Some people did.” The conversation sinking fast and Doc didn’t want to go home with a bad taste in anyone’s mouth. “It is what it is. We’ll get a handle on it.”
He turned to his mother without coming up for air. “Hey, Mom. I saw the other day Golden Dawn has chipped ham on sale, I think through Wednesday or Thursday. Isn’t that where you like how they slice it best?”
“Oh, yeah. They cut it just right. It’s out of the way to go there—” three miles, not in the same direction as her other shopping—“but it’s worth a trip if it’s on sale. You want some?”
“I got some. I would’ve got a couple pounds for you, but I didn’t know how much you had and I know you don’t like to let it sit too long in the freezer.”
“If you see it again, call and I’ll tell you if we need any.”
“I did. You weren’t home. Probably out cruising one of your doctors.”
“You leave a message?” Tom always worried the message machine didn’t work. His greeting sounded like someone held a gun to his head, told him to act natural.
“No. You never call me back, anyway. I knew I’d be over.”
Tom breathed like he might say something, let it out. He didn’t often call back. Not out of a lack of consideration. He’d forget to look at the machine. Part of Doc’s Sunday routine included checking for calls since his last visit.
“Hey,” Tom said, “you know anything about what’s going into the old shopping center by the bridge downtown?” “Downtown” a relative and nostalgic term in Penns River, ninety percent of the businesses vacant. “What are they calling it? Resurrection Mall?”
“They asked what we can do to keep some of the vagrants and druggies away while they get renovated and open for business. They seem all right. Why do you ask?”
“No reason. Just wondering.”
“I wish they’d put it someplace else,” Ellen said.
“How come?” Doc said.
“I don’t want all those holy rollers right here in town. I hear they’re going to put one of those TV churches in. Make the whole town a big joke.”
“That mall could put more locals to work than the casino.”
“Let’s hope you’re right about doing some good,” Tom said. “I wonder about the kind of people it will attract, is all.”
Compared to what? Doc thought, held it. He’d dodged the first bullet, saw no need to double back into the line of fire. Let the conversation drift to less controversial topics. Tom noted snow in the forecast for Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Ellen said they’d better get to Golden Dawn early on Tuesday. Tom expressed his belief—again—about how the Steelers needed to address their offensive line in the draft, over two months away. Doc went home with half a pound of roast beef and sufficient mashed potatoes and creamed peas for two meals. A typical Sunday at the Doughertys.
Christian Love—birth name Alfonsus Tate—would have appreciated Doc’s defense of him and his plans for Resurrection Mall. He’d broadcast services on cable access in Pittsburgh almost ten years, with outlets as far west as Wheeling and south to Morgantown. Time to grow, and Love’s Resurrection Bible Church lacked the resources to expand in place.
Enter Allegheny Casino.
Self-defined real estate tycoon Daniel Hecker finagled a casino license from the crumbs left over after the Commonwealth gave priority to people who knew what they were doing. He needed a location outside of Pittsburgh; Penns River was perfect. Less than twenty miles up the Allegheny, begging for someone to take over the shell of an abandoned shopping center. Hecker cut himself a better deal than casinos expected, even in depressed areas. Didn’t recognize the smell of Russian mob on one of his partners. Hard to fault Hecker; the Gaming Commission missed it, too. The opening got more publicity than Hecker dreamed of when bodies started dropping: a drug dealer, a small-time crook and informant, four Russian mobsters, and almost the Dougherty family.
Christian Love would never wish such a tragedy; he wouldn’t let one go to waste, either. In Penns River before the weekend, preaching to save this “Gomorrah on the Allegheny, with its sins of avarice and fornication, money changing, and preying on the addictions of the weak.” Signed papers three months later to renovate a downtown strip mall no better off than the casino’s antecedent. Called it Resurrection Mall. The banner over the main entrance read: “Not Razed, But Raised.”
Almost a year later, as much bloom on that rose as in Ellen Dougherty’s garden, second week of February.
“Rodney, close the door, please.” Rodney Simpson pushed the door half shut, stood with his hand on the knob. Looked back at Love with the question on his face. “You can stay, son. I just don’t want anyone to wander in and interrupt us.”
Love not of those ostentatious television ministers. Sat behind an IKEA desk, in a pleather chair from the Salvation Army in Butler. His suit had cost and Love watched his weight so it would always fit, tailored never to go out of style. This one had spent its year in the public appearance rotation, now relegated to day-to-day work suit. Wore a plain gold wedding band, a quiet pinkie ring set with a small amethyst. Pewter crucifix around his neck.
“Brother Sylvester, how goes the work?”
Sylvester Lewis had been with Love from the beginning. A quiet man still somewhat in awe of the authority Love had granted him, overseeing all the work and contractors for Resurrection Mall. He cleared his throat, made a show of looking at the papers in his hand. “Dr. Love, we—uh—we had a setback this week. Work’s moving along, no misunderstanding there, work is progressing, but we—uh—got a report from the plumbing inspector the fire sprinkler system on the north side of the building has to be replaced.”
Lewis took his time with an answer, in case a better one appeared. “No sir. Replace. What’s there can’t be salvaged.”
“What about the food court?” The only revenue producing part of the mall.
“Repairs need to be made there, too, but—uh—but they told me the work can be done while it’s open, or after hours. They haven’t finished inspecting this side of the building yet.”
An ache behind his left eye joined the stomach knot Love always felt when discussing business. His face remained placid. “Anything else?”
“The floors are going in maybe a little ahead of schedule, but the—uh—the glass contractor says he can’t order no new pieces for storefronts till he sees some of what he’s owed.”
“How much are we behind?”
Lewis didn’t bother pretending to look it up. “Eighteen thousand. A little more, actually.”
Love turned to the man sitting next to Lewis. “Brother Cassius, can we pay him?”
Cassius Abernathy had been with Love almost as long as Lewis. Handled the money, in and out. More out on this project. “Not if we want to pay anyone else, including us in this room.”
“Down. We brought three investors in last week. They took a look around and said no thanks.”
“Was Jacob Peete one of them?” Love asked. “You invite him down, like I asked?”
“Jacob Peete was one of them. He came the day you were taping downtown. Said he liked what you want to do, wished us good luck and all, then he passed.”
“He passed?” Love paused, irritated for allowing his irritation to show. “I’ve seen Jacob Peete invest in areas made this look like the French Riviera. How could he pass?”
Lewis inspected his shoes. Abernathy didn’t. “He saw them drug dealers hanging in the food court for what they were. Too polite to leave straight off, but that’s all he was. Polite. I keep telling you to run them off.”
A chair joint squeaked as Love sat back. He missed the comforting creak of the leather in his Homewood office. “They’re not selling when they’re here, are they?”
“No offense, brother, but it’s no crime to eat lunch out of the cold.”
“We in the process of becoming one of the biggest employers in this town,” Abernathy said. “The police can’t do us a service? Run their black asses out?”
“I appreciate what you’re saying, Cassius, I do. We’re trying to create a haven here. A sanctuary beyond the church itself where people can feel safe to congregate. How can we do that when the police walk through hassling black folk minding their own business—” Love held up a hand—“at least while they’re here.”
“Amen to that,” Abernathy said. “Thing to remember is, ain’t be a sanctuary here at all, we don’t get a handle on the cash flow.”
Love unbuttoned his suit coat, leaned forward, elbows on the desk. “It’s true, we have a dire situation here. If we can’t turn this around, it’s not only Resurrection Mall that’s in jeopardy.” Gave time for the implication to sink in. Gestured to the two younger men flanking Abernathy and Lewis. “Rodney, Jamal. Don’t be bashful. You’re younger and newer, and younger and newer ideas might be exactly what we need. Speak your minds.”
Minds remained unspoken. Love waited until he couldn’t bear the silence. “Nothing? Nobody has anything?”
Lewis cleared his throat, a tell he had something to say he’d rather not. “Dr. Love, I know how much Resurrection Mall means to you. To all of us. You know me. I spend as much time here as anyone.”
“I hear you, brother,” Love said. “More than anyone. I can’t recall a time, dawn to dusk and beyond, that I’ve been here and not seen you.”
Lewis ducked his head at the compliment. “That’s why this so hard for me to say, but you know it’s not just talking when—uh—when I say it might be time to think about—maybe—cutting our losses. Just think about it, mind you.”
Abernathy made a guttural comment. Love glanced in his direction without moving his head. Said to Lewis, “You mean walk away, Brother Sylvester? Just leave?”
“No, not like that.” Lewis dry washed his face, ran his hands through close-cropped graying hair. “We made commitments to people. It’s just—it’s just—it might be time to start looking for a—for a—I don’t know—”
“Exit strategy?” Abernathy said. Then something softer that might have been, “bitch.” Lewis shot him a glance, looked away.
Love gave Abernathy another look, turned his attention back to Lewis. “I don’t disagree with you, Brother Syl. I’ve thought along those lines myself. The problem is, we can’t. We used the church’s good name to get the original loans. We’d have to take everything into bankruptcy.”
“We could sell the mall, couldn’t we?” Jamal Adams, Lewis’s assistant. Always eager to please, carried bad news like a hod of bricks. “Pay what we owe from that. At least be a way to keep the church.”
Abernathy laughed in his face. “Who’d buy this piece of shit, boy? Why you think it was available for us? No one wants it. Been mostly empty near fifteen years.” Rodney Simpson glared at Jamal as Abernathy spoke.
“Brother Cassius, please,” Love said. “Let’s don’t discourage the young men from speaking. Jamal, I understand the thought. Under different circumstances, your idea has merit. Problem is, Brother Cassius is right. There’s no one to sell to. Even if we could find someone, any money we’d get would go to the bank to pay the mortgage. We barely been paying the interest as it is. There’s no equity to pay anyone else.”
Jamal meant well and had no more knowledge of equity than he had of nuclear fission. He looked as if he might ask until the weight of Abernathy’s and Rodney’s eyes pushed him back into himself. Lewis patted the younger man on the thigh.
“Rodney,” Love said. “Speak up, son. What do you say?”
Rodney Simpson didn’t need to be asked twice to express an opinion. “I don’t know ’bout y’all, Rodney going down with the ship. I’m here till the end, the very end. People wants to run—” made no effort to disguise the contempt in his look at Jamal—“they can go. I’m staying. Don’t make no difference to me.”
“We all respect you willing to stand your ground, son,” Lewis said. “You got to realize some of us have a lot more at stake than you do. You a young man. No offense, but the most you can lose is some time. A man your age got plenty of that. Dr. Love here, he got a whole church to worry about. People depend on him. There’s only so much of a loss he can afford to take.”
“Maybe he ain’t weak as some people.” Rodney stole a glance at Abernathy, who ignored him. “Rodney all in. I’ll carry it for all y’all, it come to it.”
“Son, you got no call to talk to me like that,” Lewis said.
“He’s right, Rodney,” Love said. “Those are hurtful words. I know you don’t feel that in your heart. It’s your grief talking, your grandma gone only a few weeks. We all know how close you were. You might need a little more time.”
“No, Rev—Dr. Love. I’m cool. I’m—I’m shouldn’t a spoke to Mr. Lewis that way. It ain’t right. I’m sorry, Deacon.”
Love nodded, looked to Lewis. “Apology accepted, son,” Lewis said. “I know she was all you had. I feel for you.”
Love nodded with a half-smile. “Amen to both of you. Brother Sylvester worked harder than anyone on this, even me. If I was to be honest with myself—and I try to be—I have too many irons in the fire. Brother Cassius been doing his best to raise the money, but raising money is my job. It’s his job to manage what I bring in. It’s me not carrying my weight here.
“I owe people in this room. All of you. And I give you my word—today—things will change. Brother Sylvester, do what you can to keep work moving. Tell those we owe their time is coming, and we’ll remember those who did us a service when we needed it. Brother Cassius, do what you can to spread what money we have a little thinner. Take half of my salary.” Lewis and Jamal rose to protest. “No, it’s what’s right. My name in the papers, people talking about ‘Christian Love’s Resurrection Mall.’ Well, the bad’s on me, too. I’ll tell Miss Eleanor to clear my schedule the rest of the week so I can get off my righteous ass and shake the tree. For everybody.”
Rodney Simpson had no interest in the Rev’s position relative to his righteous ass; all Rodney cared about was making some money.
His Grandma sent him for the job at Resurrection Mall. Raised him since his mother split one day while Rodney was at school. Never asked nothing from him till this. Saw it as more than a job. A chance to get him on the right track, work with people who knew the meaning of both work and God. Teach him to be a man while keeping him away from the friends she thought of as “aphids on a pea plant.”
Rodney knew the road to improvement was paved with education; that didn’t mean school. The best education—to Rodney “best” and “most practical” were the same—came from people who did what you wanted to do. What benefit to him who wrote some fucking book or fought a battle a hundred-fifty years ago? His friends knew how to make money. A scam here, shoplifting there, all cool so long as they were juveniles. Rodney older now, time to step up, and the drug business owned the only ladder in town.
Drugs were a sucker’s game. The hoppers on the bottom took all the risks. Those what made real money never touched the drugs. That was the level Rodney wanted to occupy, but they had this whole working your way through the ranks thing, might as well make you join a fucking union. Plus, drug boys caught more beatings than Rodney cared for—more than none—and the occasional bullet. Not part of Rodney’s plan at all.
Hands stuffed way down inside his coat pocket when he stepped out. Gloves at home someplace; no idea where. Still living in the little house where Grandma’s landlord let him crib as a courtesy, give the boy time to find something for himself. What she bought the insurance policy for: a start when she was gone. The few dollars she’d put aside with the church every week got her buried. The ten grand was Rodney’s future.
Walked to Eazor’s Deli, wind in his face, fingers freezing even in the coat pockets. Could have eaten in the Res Mall food court with everyone else. No good way there to avoid that little bitch Jamal, sure to be running his mouth about what the Rev said, the changes coming. Rodney didn’t need to talk; he needed to think. No way a man could do both at once. Listen and think, sure. What could he learn listening to a Gump like Jamal?
Ate his meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and corn alone. Eazor’s didn’t serve okra, what he liked best with Grandma’s meatloaf. Asked once and the white man behind the counter stared like he’d asked for sheep dick or some other exotic shit. Eazor’s meatloaf was good for a restaurant. Fake mashed potatoes better than most, not as good as real; the gravy almost made up for it. Corn no substitute for okra. Never would be.
Picked out Cassius Abernathy as the man to hang with right away. Maneuvered around Jamal so Rodney got to work with Abernathy instead of Lewis, the Rev’s original plan. Rodney recognized a man who knew what he wanted and how to get it without breaking any specific laws Rodney could see. Grandma sent him here for his own good, and to do good; no reason he couldn’t do well at the same time.
Abernathy scared Rodney a little, not that he’d tell anyone. Why he kept his distance, watching, noticing anytime money changed hands it moved in Abernathy’s direction. Contractors, tradesmen, roach coach vendors who came around before the food court opened. You did business with or at Res Mall, Cassius Abernathy got paid.
Rodney saw his niche there, laying in the cut. Not taking so much anyone would notice. Spread the sources around, a nickel here and a dime there and pretty soon you’re talking folding money. Abernathy had it going on the way Rodney imagined it would work.
Rodney’s problem, he got there late. Abernathy’s operation already set up. Every day a lesson on how to maintain. Rodney still had to learn the start-up end. Opportunities would present when the needs of the mall changed as things progressed. The new sprinklers, for example. Different contractor needed for that work. Someone new for Abernathy to touch. Rodney would be ready, watching.
Piss Rodney off if Res Mall went tits up and left him with nothing except this minimum-wage-plus-a-quarter punk-ass job to put on his resume, like he’d ever need a resume, the things he wanted to do. Res Mall his ticket out of this shithole town, and that shithole little house he’d have to leave soon, anyway. The mall had to hold together for him to learn his craft. Learn it quicker if he could get Abernathy to bring him in as a partner—no matter how junior—if Rodney ever got up the balls to ask.
Rodney Simpson needed Resurrection Mall. Resurrection Mall needed money. Rodney Simpson had money. His ten thousand, thrown into the general fund, would disappear like sugar in ice tea. Might be he could use it some way to show Abernathy some skills; thinking outside the box and shit. Could be a man with the vision of Cassius Abernathy had use for a man with the skills of Rodney Simpson, once he’d seen those skills first hand.
Excerpted from Resurrection Mall — Copyright © 2017 by Dana King.
Reprinted with permission by Down & Out Books. All rights reserved.