I still needed numbers, I still needed to do my job, but with freedom, doing mundane tasks became impossible. It became hard to remember because why would I want to focus on numbers when I had the whole city to occupy my mind. For a brief period I questioned my memory and for a week I took only sixteen numbers at a time, one slot free for my own thoughts. Soon I learned to balance work and fun, when work became fun. When I was finally able to collect numbers again. Jadiel accompanied me to all events but I didn’t mind. Without him a young woman at a club would look odd and with him I didn’t get stares or men coming up to me. We went to smaller places, places where we wouldn’t find other Spades. New betters found us more approachable but seasoned ones found us less trustworthy. Still, we weren’t caught. Still the little world inside my head was allowed to grow.
Jadiel, being part of the Monroe side and a lesser known Monroe, didn’t bring us much attention. Me, being an invisible Spade kept us in the clear. Most men thought I was Jadiel’s wife, another Monroe. Most men didn’t notice me. Because I had a man by my side I didn’t mean much to the ones that used to stare when it was just my mother and me. Most men would whisper their number in Jadiel’s ear not expecting him to turn straight to me. Most men stood stunned as their little slip of paper was passed from him to me, glanced at and then ripped up, a tiny smile playing on my lips.
It was early November when the pavement became cool to the touch, losing the warmth of the sun. It was early November when Jadiel came to my door, the same as every night. I grabbed one of my three pairs of shoes I had started hiding under the sink. It was early November when we ran hand in hand down the flight of stairs and into the crisp air, across the street and through a narrow alley, avoiding a restaurant of the female royalty. It was early November when we landed at Mulneer club. Mulneer was our diamond mine. We collected more numbers there than anywhere else we were able to travel. More people filtered through, some having access to the back room where alcohol was served in silver laced glasses and where haze engulfed the crowd. We stayed up front, catching people on the way to their forbidden night. It was early November, our fourth time in the seat we claimed, the one that was always cleared for us. The booth that people hastily slid in and out of, their eyes nervously darting around. It was early November when I would no longer have to sit still again.
It was eleven pm when I saw the first Parchment walk in. He was slim and wore a dapper red suit, more expensive than anyone else in the club. His beard was full and shaped. I didn’t think much of him, I hoped he would not recognise us as rivals but it didn’t matter, even if he didn’t know our names, we were still taking their numbers. Something we had been too dumb to think about, too fixated on avoiding our own family we forgot about others. After him came two more. I didn’t know their first names or their position but I knew their anger. The biggest, a man in a long coat that traced the floor, stood quietly in the coroner, while red suit and his companion chatted up a cluster of women. Trying not to stare, I nudged Jadiel but there was no need. He had seen, everyone had already seen. Everyone, holding their breath, waiting for the inevitable. It took a full hour for them to start slowly approaching us, by then the tension that held us had abated but it was quick to return. Our client was fast to leave us, taking his unspoken number away from our grasp. Jadiel inched towards the edge of his seat, his left hand resting on his leg, close to his pistol. In normal circumstances Parchments wouldn’t tussle with Spade-Monroes but there were three of them and two of us. I had multiple thoughts running through my head as I tried not to make eye contact with the men but the main thought was who gave us away?
Harlem Daily Afternoon Post
Last night at twelve o’eight AM Mulneer club was disturbed by a shootout between two local gangs. Shots were initiated by Parchment men firing upon members of the Spade-Monroe gang, their first names unknown. Guests were evacuated as fast as possible and took to the night streets. Two people were reported dead on sight and one sustained injuries now being treated in hospital. Police had been alerted by a local and arrived at the scene at the height of the shooting. Three people were arrested, including the owner of the club who was found to be engaging in illegal alcohol selling. As of now, Mulneer is closed and searches are underway for the location of a missing suspect in the violence, known to have escaped the chaos of last night. The police are now monitoring the gangs as best they can but citizens are advised to keep an eye open to any suspicious behaviour, loitering and weapons. Tensions are at their highest now, leaving the opportunity for more violence on the streets of Harlem.
Locked up for days, lied to and scared, I had been through mental pain for months and I thought it was worse than physical pain. It might stick with me longer but the pain I felt as I ran down the midnight neighbourhood was greater than anything I had experienced. Worse than when I sliced my hand on the shattered glass on the lawn in Boston. Worse than my raw skin after walking across the new city. Worse than when Sebastian had stumbled into my old apartment. I turned into a crevasse between buildings and spit up blood pooling in my mouth, it soon turned into vomiting and I gave myself a minute to lean against the wall, my throat burning with every inhale.
It wasn’t fast, the whole ordeal felt like it took an hour. From the moment the first shot was fired to when I was outside felt like the longest minutes of my life, filled with brilliant deadly flashes and screams of obsession, fear and pain. Jadiel and the man in the red suit had gone for their guns at the same time. I was ready to run, my legs firm on the ground ready to escape the booth, but plans weren’t communicated and when my knees sprung up to push my body away from the shots, Jadiel’s force was on me, trying to place me under the table. My head cracked against the wooden surface and then smashed again on the floor. My tongue was violently clamped down on by my teeth and then my ears were filled with sound. Jadiel’s first bullet ricocheted and hit the man across from us in the arm, he let out a roar and wrapped his hand around his bicep which started to bleed into his tawny sleeve. Jadiel kicked me from his spot as he stood up, a shot from the big Parchment being next in line in the overwhelming sound. Then two more shots from Jadiel, the man in the red suit sunk to the ground inches in front of me as I crawled towards the crowd of people stampeding towards the front door. I heard a yell from the front of the club and from my blurry perspective on the ground, I thought I saw the server with a gun coming towards us. The big Parchment man shot again towards our booth but I was already finding my feet, clinging on to the wall, my head starting to vibrate, I was unable to turn around and see the damage.
Many more gunshots filled the space and going against the crowd became harder. I was almost at my destination when I was pulled by another young woman. Her hand intertwined with mine and she yanked me towards the side door that we both knew as our way out. Reaching for the knob the door clicked open but before we could enter, her body lurched violently and my side right under my ribs burned. The woman fell to her knees, her hand clinging to my dress, her grip so firm the fabric tore as she slid down me. The pain and her momentum pushed me into the bathroom and without thinking I pulled my hand away from hers and kicked the door closed, the woman’s fingers slipping under the crack, still reaching, trying to join me. I stood, side wet, my eyes blackening but it was hard to tell what was my damaged head or the dark room. I locked the door before climbing up the toilet, reaching for the window, reaching for safety. The window was already open and fresh wind mixed with the warm weed tinged air of the room. I was halfway out when the door started shaking violently on its hinges, the woman’s limp fingers twitching as her body was stepped on by a Parchment. Before the door could be brought down I heard commands rising from the shrieks and I registered the presence of law enforcement on the other side of the door. I slipped out the window, the open square gnawing on my already ruined skin. My heart beat vibrating my ribs, I ran down the street to where I spit, threw up and collapsed in the cold stone.
November Seventh – 12:27 am
Valentine, where are you?
The apartment on second.
Who are you with?
Emmanuel and William…why? What happened?
Nothing, nothing, everything is going to be fine. Just stay put