Bob Marley’s Crazy Baldheads wafted from the speakers hanging from the exposed concrete ceiling. Raising a mug of chai latte to her lips, Jamela slowly peered across the room, settling her gaze on a portly man with ruddy skin and combed over blond hair that would make any 45th president envious. He wore a charcoal gray tracksuit, with a white t-shirt underneath, and gray running shoes. His eyes widened as he nervously checked his phone; again.
Jamela set her mug down and stared at the tarot card laid out before her on the table. The young woman sitting across from her looked down at the cards, her huge afro casting a shadow over them. The woman looks up at Jamela.
“The Magician card in reverse warns you to watch out for trickery, manipulation, or betrayal,” the card reader said. “Next, we have the Hierophant, which represents rules, regulations, and traditions. The Hierophant next to the reversed Magician means that you are part of some tradition or traditional organization that is good for you and has taught you a lot, but within that group is a traitor, your enemy.”
“Hmm,” Jamela said, twirling one of her locs with her index finger.
The portly man stood and stretched his neck, dipping his head from side-to-side.
Jamela reached into the breast pocket of her red and black plaid shirt and pulled out a fat wad of money. She peeled off a hundred dollar bill and placed it on top of the cards.
Shaniqua picked up the money and stuffed it into her bra. “But your reading isn’t finished.”
“No need,” Jamela said. “Traitor in my organization is a lot to unpack. Thanks, again!”
The pudgy man looked at his phone once more, then brought his hand up to wipe the nervous sweat from his face. His eyes nervously darted around the coffee house.
Jamela walked toward the counter and pretended to look at the menu of teas, coffees and vegan sandwiches written in chalk on a board mounted on the wall behind the cashier.
The pudgy man sprang from his seat and headed for the door.
Jamela change courses and nonchalantly left the coffee house.
Jamela paused to take out her cell phone and double-check her assignment.
“Yep, that’s him,” she whispered.
Winston Bailey, lawyer for Adelphon Entertainment Industries. He had stolen and leaked the screenplays to four of Webflix’s upcoming big budget movies when Webflix refused to merge with Adelphon. The dirty move had cost Webflix half a billion dollars, so they had enlisted the services of the Bloodmen to take Bailey off the board.
This was Jamela’s first mark without a partner and she wanted to make a good impression. As the first woman in the Bloodmen to receive a solo contract, she was determined to pave the way for other sisters in the greatest Guild on the planet.
Jamela carefully increased her pace as she mentally took stock of her weapons—her pair of eagle talon-like karambits on her belt near the small of her back; the folding knives in each pocket; and the compact Sig Sauer P320 .357 pistol in a holster sewn inside her leather jacket.
Jamela paused as Winston glanced over his shoulder, a leer on his face as he caught her looking.
“Hey, Soul Sister,” he said, waggling his eyebrows.
Then an idea came to her: she would make Winston’s fetish for a sister work in her favor. Reaching up, Jamela ran her fingers through her soft locs and smiled. She then pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and pressed it to her ear, pretending to talk on it as she continued to walk behind Winston down the street.
Putting an extra sway in her hips, Jamela pretended to be too absorbed in her phone conversation to notice Winston stop and step off to the side, watching her with his shifty eyes.
As Jamela came even with where he was standing, she forced herself to remain loose and relaxed. Winston stepped out in front of her, the swift movement causing Jamela to bump into his sour sweaty body. Jamela must have been taller than he realized, surprise flashed across his face as they came almost eye to eye. Snatching her phone from her hand, he gestured lewdly to her chest, as his other hand grabbed a fistful of her hair and yanked her head back painfully.
“A little flatter than I like, but you’ll do,” Winston snickered. “I’m gonna have fun with you before you tell me who sent you and why. What, to get photos of me in some compromising position? We’re gonna get into all kinds of positions.”
Jamela drew the karambits from her belt then punched both sides of Winston’s neck, driving the hooked knives deep into his carotid arteries. She yanked the knives out of the lawyer’s neck, flicked his blood from the knives onto the pavement then slid the karambits back into their sheaths.
A fountain of blood arced from both sides of his neck. Winston’s eyes rolled up into his head and then he fell with a thud.
A Dodge charger pulled up to the sidewalk near Jamela with a screech. A strobe light inside its grill flashed.
Jamela took her authorization papers out of her pocket and held them before her.
“This is a legitimate contract. I’m a Bloodman.”
An elder woman steps out of the car smoking a big cigar.
“Manman Cécile,” Jamela said. “The only pig I mess with.”
Manman Cécile was in her 60s, but still attractive, with silver goddess braids that lay on her shoulders, and an athletic build.
“Not too many cops are Vodouisant,” Manman Cécile said. “And even less are Mambo or Houngan.”
She waves her hand dismissively then looks around.
“You can put those papers away. We’re good. Where’s Malcolm?”
“I’m working solo.”
Manman Cécile looks surprised. “What? They finally let you work ninety-nine, huh?”
“Good. If anybody’s ready, you are, Marinette.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask, why do you always call me Marinette?”
“Marinette Bwa Chech is one of the fiercest of the Lwa,” the detective replied. “She is the revolution. She is bloodshed, violence and fire. When I see you, I see her.”
Tilting her head with a slightly unnatural movement, Manman Cécile gazed at the man on the ground, her brown eyes taking in the dual slits in the sides of Winston’s neck. Her eyes traveled along the blood spray and up to Jamela, a slight smirk on her face.
“Okay, I see you, sis.”
“Okay, I’ve gotta get to the Ile and give a report to Papa,” Jamela said. “You be safe out here.”
“You be safe, Bloodman… err, woman,” Manman Cécile said. “Y’all really should rethink that name.”
“Been the ‘Bloodmen’ since before anyone alive today even knew we existed,” Jamela said with a shrug. “Before the world came to its senses and made sanctioned assassinations legal. I doubt that’s changing anytime soon.”
“I hear that,” Manman Cécile said. “Choose your battles wisely and shit. Take care, sis. Let me get the Medical Examiner over here.”
“All right, Detective. Buh-bye.”
Jamela jogged across the street to her candy apple red Ducati Scrambler motorcycle, hopped on and sped off.
* * *
Walking into the receiving room of the Bloodmen’s Ile, Jamela was relieved to see it mostly deserted and quickly made her way toward the women’s locker room.
Making her way to her usual locker, Jamela locked her weapons and clothing inside
She walks toward the showers, pausing to look at herself in the full-length mirror on the wall just beyond the row of sinks. Her body was mostly lean muscle and well-toned. She flexed the muscles in her bicep like a posing bodybuilder and laughed then stepped into the steaming hot shower.
Jamela cruised up a driveway riddled by crunchy brown leaves. She stopped at the end of it, a few feet from the steps that led up to the rectangular two-flat’s front porch. She hopped off the motorcycle and jogged up the stairs then pressed her palm to a panel beside the opaque glass front door. The door opened a crack.
The sound of hip-hop music met her ears. Jamela drew her karambits then slid along the wall, knives poised and ready.
Then she heard, “Bim! Bim! Bim!” come from her living room.
Jamela rolled her eyes then sheathed her karambits.
“Morocco! What the hell are you doing here?”
Rounding the corner, Jamela bit back a stream of obscenities. A lanky teenager was sprawled along her couch, his giant shoes carelessly leaving traces of dirt where his feet precariously dangled over her end table. He sat up, his wild afro bouncing, and flashed a wide smile. He pressed the remote control and the music video on the wide television screen on the wall went silent.
“Mela, hope you don’t mind, I needed to get out of the house and figured I’d crash here for a few hours.”
Swatting at his monstrous feet until he groaned and finally moved so Jamela had room to sit, Jamela reached over and snagged the bag of barbecue chips off his chest.
“I gave you and Head keys to feed and walk Petey Wheatstraw when I’m out of town and to come here in case of an emergency. Why did you have to get out of the house? Was there an emergency? Where’s Head?”
Snatching the bag back from Jamela and holding it just out of reach, Morocco smirked.
“What’s with the twenty questions? Aren’t you happy to see your favorite mentee?”
Rolling her eyes pointedly at his dirty shoes, her half-eaten bag of chips and the crumbs scattered around him, Jamela blew out a long-suffering sigh.
“Maybe I should have looked the other way when those Bring Back the Old South college boys were gonna string up you and Head for defacing their bus. My life would be so much simpler.”
“That’s cold, Jamela,” Morocco said. “You know we were striking a blow against white supremacy.”
“I don’t know how revolutionary it is to paint a thousand tiny white penises all over the bus, but okay.”
“But you gotta admit that shit was funny, though.”
He extended his fist toward Jamela. Jamela gave him a pound.
“It was aight,” she muttered.
Morocco brushed the rest of the offending crumbs off his shirt and onto Jamela’s floor.
“And Head is exactly why I’m here. Bruh finally got himself a date and you know his mama ain’t letting him bring a girl to her holy home, so he’s using my crib. My folks are at the coffee house… which my Daddy called and said a hit took place in front of just a little while ago. Know anything about that?”
He looked at her suspiciously.
“Never mind all that,” Jamela said, waving her hand dismissively. “Why is Head taking a girl on a date to your house, not to a restaurant, or the movies, or the doggone High Museum, or something?”
“Come on, Jamela. Really?”
Jamela shook her head. “Nasty asses. I hope he’s got protection.”
I hooked him up with a couple before I left.”
“Who is this poor girl? Jamela asked.
“I don’t know much about her,” Morocco replied. “But her name is Lewa. She’s a Freshman at Spelman, so she must be smart since she’s our age.”
Jamela walked over to the small kitchen then opened the stainless steel refrigerator. She reached in and grabbed a beer.
Morocco craned his neck to see what Jamela was doing.
“Hey, toss me one of those,” he said
Jamela tossed a cream soda over her shoulder at Morocco. Smiling, Morocco caught the bottle. He looked at its label and his smile faded. He shrugged, removed the top with the bottle opener on the table and began to guzzle the soda.
Jamela sat back down next to Morocco. “What does this Elewa look like?”
“She’s foine,” Morocco said, pursing his lips. “Curly faux-hawk; skin almost as black as her hair; big old booty!”
Jamela rolled her eyes.
“I won’t lie, she’s a little scary, though.” He said.
Morocco took another swig of cream soda. “I’m just saying, for a seventeen year old, she looks like she’s seen some things. Know what I mean?”
“I think so.”
Morocco smiled. “So what’s up with you and old boy? Malcolm?”
“He was my Field Trainer. He’s cool.”
“I bet he’s training you, all right.”
Frowning, Jamela pointed at Morocco. “Naw, it’s not like that. Date the son of my Guildmaster? Naw.”
“You think he’s fine, though,” Morocco said, giving Jamela the side-eye.
“He is fine. And smart. And funny. And respectful.”
“Shoot your shot, then.”
“I don’t know.”
“Look, Jamela. You’re pretty, tough, really physically fit, funny and smart yourself. He’d be lucky to have you.”
Jamela stares at Morocco. “Damn. When did you get so mature?”
Morocco blushes. “You think I’m mature? Then maybe you and I could—”
Jamela rolls her eyes. “Here we go.”
Jamela looks around, swiveling her head from side to side. “Morocco, where’s Petey Wheatstraw?”
“Oh, he wanted to go out for a few minutes before you got home,” Morocco said. He’s out back.”
Panic shot through Jamela. “You let a hundred and fifty pound Rottweiler just run outside unsupervised and without a leash?”
“Petey ain’t gonna hurt nobody,” Morocco said.
“He’s was literally raised by the Benetti family to kill people,” Jamela said. “I’ve just been retraining him since I took the Benetti’s out.”
Spinning toward the door, Jamela slammed her beer down and threw the door open.
“Petey Wheatstraw, come here boy! Petey Wheatstraw!”
Arm thrown over the back of the couch, Morocco watched Jamela curiously. “What’s the big deal? He’s a good dog. He’ll be back after he plays for a little bit. We do this all the time when you’re out of town.”
“Dammit, Morocco! I’m a Bloodman. Any kills associated with me that aren’t sanctioned by the Guild and I’m dead!”
A deep bark and a man’s laughter drew Jamela’s attention across the street. Her hand clutched her chest in shock as she watched her big dog happily bound after the tennis ball her neighbor threw.
“Petey Wheatstraw?” Jamela called out.
Petey Wheatstraw ignored her. His playmate, on the other hand, did not. With a wide smile on his face, the man wiped his hands off on his jeans as he jogged over to her, dirt-smudged across a very expensive-looking dress shirt. The knot of his green and gold paisley silk tie was pulled loose and flopped in time with his steps.
“Hello, I’m guessing this big guy is yours? I’m Mofetolu, but call me Tolu, for short. I live right over there. I hope you don’t mind, I figured I’d try to distract him a little to make sure he didn’t run away.”
Mofetolu stuck his hand out as he spoke, his brown eyes friendly and his smile genuine.
“Oh, hello, I’m Jamela, and yeah, he’s mine. Sorry, I’ve never seen him so friendly with someone he doesn’t know before.”
Grasping Mofetolu’s hand firmly, Jamela watched Petey Wheatstraw as he trotted over to them, tail wagging. Tolu reached down and scratched Petey Wheatstraw on the head, the dog’s black ears swiveled toward Jamela as he dropped the ball, tongue lolling out of his mouth.
Chuckling, Tolu stepped back from Jamela. “I’ve always gotten along well with animals. I haven’t had a dog since I moved here from Lagos.”
“Petey, you know you aren’t supposed to wander off.” Jamela said wagging a finger at her dog.
Sitting down, Petey Wheatstraw tilted his enormous head at Jamela.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Jamela said, glaring at Petey Wheatstraw.
Tolu laughed as he bent over and picked up the ball, lightly tossing it up as he stood.
“Well, I’m glad Petey Wheatstraw ventured across the street today. It gave me a chance to play with a dog and of course to meet you. Do you have an email address or number you’d like to share in case he gets out again? That way I can contact you?”
“Oh, sure! I mean, it’s unlikely he’d ever get loose again, but um, yeah.”
Fumbling in her pocket to retrieve her phone, a snicker coming from behind Jamela drew her attention. Morocco stood nonchalantly leaning on her door, sipping his cream soda while watching them.
“Oh! I didn’t realize you have a boyfriend! I’m so sorry if I was being too forward asking for your number.”
“W’sup, player?” Morocco said stone-faced.
Tolu shifted uncomfortably.
Jamela jerked a thumb in Morocco’s direction. “Morocco is definitely not my boyfriend! You think I’m out here robbing cradles and shit? He’s my friend and he’s only seventeen!”
Morocco frowned. “Only.”
“Give me a second Tolu,” Jamela said, unlocking her cell phone. “If you give me your number, I’ll put you in my phone and then call you, that way you’ll have my number.”
Tolu pulled out his own phone, a confident smile growing on his face.
Petey Wheatstraw gave a little yip and laid down.
Jamela leaned over and ruffled the hair between the dog’s ears. Petey Wheatstraw smiled and let his tongue loll out happily.
Tolu gave Jamela his number. As Jamela turned, snapping her fingers for Petey Wheatstraw to follow, which he did, Tolu called out for Jamela to wait a second.
“I don’t know what your schedule looks like tomorrow,” he said. “But I was thinking of trying out that new ice cream place that opened up about a five-minute walk from here. Would you and Petey Wheatstraw like to try it out tomorrow night?”
“Oh, um—” Jamela stuttered in surprise. Petey Wheatstraw bumped her leg in encouragement.
“Yeah, that sounds fun. After dinner? Why don’t you send me a text and let me know what time?”
“Great! I’ll see you two tomorrow!” Tolu started walking toward his house.
Tolu turned back around with a curious look on his face.
“My name is Jamela, but all my friends call me Mela.”
Smiling Tolu waved goodbye, “See you tomorrow, Mela!”
Smiling, Jamela walked inside the house, Petey Wheatstraw by her side.
* * *
Sunlight shined in through her bedroom window and warmed Jamela’s face. Yawning and stretching, Jamela tossed one leg out of the bed. Her phone beeped. With a sigh, Jamela glanced at the screen, a message from Morocco popped up:
C u at the party Friday. The dashiki you got me is fye! Thank u!
“Please, Ogun. Don’t let Head and Morocco embarrass me at the keta.”
Jamela grumbled and kicked off her covers. She threw her other leg out of bed and headed to the kitchen to feed Petey Wheatstraw and check his water. He padded out from the guest bedroom, yawning and showing all of his sharp white teeth.
“Petey, I’m going to the park for a run this morning. You interested? If so, I’ll take the car instead of the bike.”
Petey Wheatstraw looked up from his bowl and fixed his eyes on Jamela a moment before licking his lips and going back to his food.
“I take that as a yes,” Jamela said.
She headed into the bathroom in her bedroom to brush her teeth and throw on some workout clothes.
Fifteen minutes later, water bottle and leash in hand, Jamela jingled her car keys. “Alright Petey, let’s go! See if you can keep up with me old man!”
Jamela slipped a folding knife into her long sleeve rash guard, clipping it onto the strap of her sports bra.
Petey Wheatstraw trotted up to the door and shook his fur. Jamela reached down and placed his leather collar on.
* * *
Jamela pulled her candy apple red Corvette into a space in the park’s lot. She hopped out of the car and Petey Wheatstraw followed.
The sun was out, providing some comforting warmth to the cool fall morning. Jamela set out on the jogging path, Petey Wheatstraw trotting alongside her.
About a mile into her run, Jamela was starting to work up a good sweat. Raised voices broke through the secluded patch Jamela was running through, and suddenly she found herself coming upon a very large group of people. Jamela began to slow down; she was more than a little shocked when she quickly realizing this wasn’t a typical large gathering. This was a gathering of three dozen white hipsters with five Black women three Black men and a Black teenage boy and girl encircled by them.
The hipsters all wore blue polo shirts with white piping on their collars and blue denim hoodies over them. They also wore navy blue joggers and white skate shoes.
“Bring Back the Old South,” Jamela whispered. “Out here?”
Bring Back the Old South was a far-right neo-fascist organization that promoted Southern white pride and political violence. The group sees white men people and Western culture worldwide as under siege.
Angry shouts and startled yells pulled Jamela’s attention to the far side of the crowd. Right out in the open stood Spencer Duke, the eldest son of Rufus Duke, the extremely dangerous and charismatic leader of Bring Back the Old South.
A loud boom sounded and everything began to go sideways.
The sounds of gunfire rang out in the park, followed by terrified screams and shouts.
Jamela sprinted toward the mob. She watched as the crowd turned feral and began brutally attacking the Black men, women and teens trapped by them.
“Leave it to me to jog right into the middle of a lynching,” Jamela said.
She darted around a tree and ran full force into a white man who was beating the teenage boy into a bloody pulp.
Tossing the gasping teen onto the ground, the man grinned a crooked toothy smile at Jamela, cracking his knuckles sinisterly as he stomped toward her.
Jamela ran straight at him.
The man swung a wide hook punch at Jamela’s face.
Jamela dropped to the ground, sliding on her knees just below his reach.
She drew the folding knife from her bra and slammed it down into the man’s combat boot.
The man screamed as he dropped to one knee.
Jamela yanked the knife out of his foot then sliced the back of his leg just above his ankle, severing his Achilles tendon.
The man fell onto his side, wailing in agony.
Hearing another scream, Jamela whirled around to see Spencer Duke strangling one of the Black women. The woman’s feet dangled as she fought to stay conscious.
A deep bark got Jamela’s attention. She looked down at Petey Wheatstraw, who now stood at her side.
Reaching down, Jamela clumsily unhooked the dog’s collar. Growling, the Rottweiler raced ahead of Jamela.
“Let her go, Spencer!” Jamela screamed as she ran toward the heavily muscled blond behemoth.
Spencer gave his choking victim a hard shake then tossed her unconscious body aside. His cold blue eyes met Jamela’s.
Petey Wheatstraw leapt at Spencer.
Spencer drew a matte black Smith and Wesson Judge revolver from his jacket and fired. The sound of thunder rent the morning sky as a .410 shotgun shell exploded out of the revolver’s muzzle.
Petey fell to the ground with a thud, whimpering as blood pumped from the huge wound in his chest.
“No!” Jamela screamed.
Spencer aimed the revolver at Jamela’s face.
Jamela hurled her knife toward Spencer then rolled for cover behind a big oak tree.
Spencer fired. Dirt and grass flew up in the air less than an inch behind her.
Spencer screamed and began firing madly.
Jamela peeked from behind the tree and saw Spencer firing blindly, her knife jutting from the socket of his right eye.
After a few moments, Spencer fell onto his back. He convulsed once then lay still.
Jamela ran to Petey Wheatstraw, dropped to her knees beside the dog and wrapped her arms around his big body. Sobbing into his fur, Jamela laid in the grass beside her friend.
A gust of wind blew a sheet of hissing ice crystals around Jamela’s Mountain 600 Danner boots. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and pulled the zipper of her winter jacket up higher on her neck.
A fresh gust of wind pushed her sideways.
“Goddamn Irkutsk,” she whispered. “This is what I get for helping my people against crazy ass white supremacists in a world run by crazy ass white supremacists.”
“This is what you get for almost killing Spencer Duke,” said a voice that came from her ear buds. “If you had killed him, things would be worse. We don’t do unsanctioned hits.”
“Yeah, yeah, Malcolm,” Jamela said. “What about that guy in Japan? My would-be rapist?”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about… on this line that could be monitored.”
She raised a pair of digital binoculars to her face. A figure walked out of the side door of a three story building and trudged toward an SUV waiting several yards away.
“Hold up. The mark has left the building,” Jamela said. “I’m gonna do him here.”
“No,” Malcolm said. “Follow him to his house and close the contract there.”
“It’s too cold here,” Jamela said, tossing her binoculars into a backpack that sat in the snow next to a white M40A5 long-range rifle. “I’m gonna end him so I can get to my next sucky job.”
“Talk to you later, Malcolm.”
“Jamela, don’t fuck this—”
Jamela removed her ear buds and slipped them into the pocket in her sleeve.
She picked up the rifle and placed its tripod a foot in front of her. She scooted toward the rifles scope and peered into it. The mark was a foot from the front of his SUV.
Jamela inhaled deeply then held her breath. She squeezed the trigger slowly then fired.
The mark fell against the hood of his vehicle then slid down to the snow-covered ground.
Jamela put her ear buds back in.
“The job’s done,” she whispered.
“Jamela, you’re crazier than a shoeshine in a shit storm,” Malcolm said. “Your next job is with me. I’ve gotta keep tabs on you.”
“Not back to partner gigs,” Jamela said, frowning.
“It’s in Hawaii,” Malcolm said. “Or you can take that solo gig in Ahvaz, Iran. I hear it’s a balmy 129 degrees this time of year.”
“Hawaii it is,” Jamela said.
“Bring your swimming trunks,” Jamela said. “And boxer briefs. I like blue.”
“What?” Malcolm said.
“I’m shooting my shot.”
“Oh,” Malcolm said.
“Did it work?”
“We’ll see when we meet in Hawaii,” Malcolm said. “Peace.”
Jamela smiled as she broke down her rifle and slipped its pieces into her backpack.
“Morocco would be proud,” she said.
She stood and walked down the quiet street, strong winds pushing her forward and forcing her to jog. But her mind wasn’t on the freezing cold and snow. It was on Malcolm, and Morocco and Petey Wheatstraw and how she would one day be the best assassin the Bloodmen had ever produced and earn the code name of Marinette.
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