Chapter 9 Money Matters
Detective Hines was looking like he might turn out to be a man of his word, because sure enough, Manny was sitting on his bed, the next morning, counting the one hundred piles of bills for the second time. Each stack worth a thousand dollars. Manny couldn’t believe his eyes. He wanted to call his boy Brandon but that was against the first rule of the agreement Hines had went over with Manny when he had dropped off the bag.
“Rule 1. Don’t tell anyone about the situation or the negotiation.”
“Rule 2. If we just so happen to run into each other outside of Westerlynne; You Don’t know me”
“Rule 3. Always, always, always wear your vest outside of Westerlynne. You’re no good to me if your chest is blown open.
Manny’s schizophrenic thought process was all over the place. Deprived Manny thought about heading to the mall and buying every pair of Jordan’s, and Timb’s in sight. Maybe have Ritz come pick him up in the limo and take him back down to the Country Club so he could stunt a taste. Bitch smack Chance and his pack of laughing hyenas with the back of his new pistol. He thought about taking Aunt El a couple stacks, partly to show his appreciation for all she had done for him but also to prove to her that Westerlynne was the right choice.
Entrepreneurial Manny was wondering what he could do, who he could talk to, to flip at least half of this money into something bigger. He knew it took money to make money and now that he had some, he was already doing the math on how he could make sure that he’d always have it. Then there was Vigilant Manny, who was more than ready to put all the money back into the duffel bag and give it back to Hines. This Manny was sitting in the backseat, however. Deprived Manny was driving.
Manny set aside 5 stacks and then placed the rest of the money back in the bag. He pulled out his phone and scrolled through his contacts. Manny had punched the limo driver’s info from the business card into his phone. Ritz Montgomery was his name.
“Good morning, Mr. Wright. How can I be of service?” Ritz’s voice was rich and strong.
“Good evening. I wanted to go to the nearest mall and maybe if we have enough time, I’d like to see my auntie back on the West side.”
“You got it, Sir. I’ll be there in ten.”
Manny looked over at the cash laying on his bed. Too much to fit into his wallet, he stuffed it all into a pocket in his cargo shorts. It wouldn’t lay flat. It bulged and spilled stupidly from it. He looked at himself in the mirror.
“I ain’t ever had these kind of problems,” he said, his reflection grinning back at him like the Cheshire cat.
Manny split the money up and put a thousand dollars in 5 different pockets including the two big baggy ones that sat just above his knees.
Twenty-five minutes later, Ritz pulled up to the Parkway Mall entrance and Manny got out.
“I’ll be just five minutes away. Take your time. Just ring me when you’re ready to head out.”
People coming and going, watched Manny, curiously, trying to figure out who had just shown up via limousine. He dropped his shoulders and added a little extra swag to his usually upright walk.
“First thing first” Manny said to himself, “I have to get some new kicks.”
Upon his entrance into the shoe store, multiple guys, all close to Manny’s age and overly friendly , offered to help him with his choice and for once his answer wasn’t “I’m just looking.”
Manny looked at the dark-skinned boy in front him. He was rocking a crispy drop fade with a deep part. He was wearing the signature striped shirt that all the employees wore but at his feet his were a shiny black and white pair of Jordan’s.
“What are those?” Manny asked the young man.
“These are the Concord 11’s. We don’t have them in anymore. They sell out within the first hour they drop. I do have a website I could order and have them sent to your house but the price has um…,” He looked at the shoes Manny were currently wearing and assumed he might as well go another direction with this conversation.
“The Retro 5’s just dropped today if you wanna look at those,” the young brother said.
Manny scrunched his brow and gave the boy the “negro, please” face.
“I’ll take both”
“As a matter of fact, I’ll take those Timb’s in the green and the brown, as well,” he said pointing at the boots on display.
Manny left the shoe store with two pair of basketball shoes and two pair of boots. He also ordered the Concord 11’s costing him almost $700 alone.
The cargo shorts and white tee Manny had on actually looked fresh with his addition of the Jordan ones in all white. After hitting a couple more stores the bags were adding up and Manny’s pockets were finally feeling lighter. He now had attire for all occasions, including accessories. He pulled out his phone.
“I’m right outside. Pulling around to the front now, Sir,” Ritz answered.
Inside the limo, Manny scrolled through his contacts until he reached the K’s and took a deep breath.
The phone rang three times and then there was a lively recording:
“Hey! This is Khia Jameson, sorry we missed each other. I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m available, …well, that’s if you leave a message. Bye.”
“Hey Khia, what’s up. This is Manny, umm, you met me the other night at the party.”
Damn, I know that sounded stupid. I should hang up…ugh… That would be weak.
“So, you say you want to see what it do in the hood, right?” Manny laughed into the phone, uneasily. He hoped that by the time it reached Khia’s ear it sounded cool.
“Anyway, I was headed home for a minute and didn’t want to break my promise. I see you’re busy tho, so maybe next time.” Manny ended the call slightly disappointed not to be hooking up with Khia but kind of relieved that he could just relax for a minute. He didn’t have to put on for anyone else today. Being judged was hard work. He sat back in the soft leather seat and let Ritz drive him home.
“They taking care of my baby out there? Feeding you, good?” Aunt El asked not needing an answer. She spooned a large portion of hot-out-the oven mac and cheese on to a glass plate then added two pieces of fried catfish and a piece of bread. She used her hand to grab up some pieces of fried okra, which sat on a greasy paper towel inside a bowl on the stove, and laid it down on Manny’s plate.
“Hmm,” she said pushing the plate at Manny who was already seated at the table. Manny grabbed the hot sauce that sat in the middle of the table along with the rest of the never changing décor, including a fake crystal set of salt and pepper shakers, a collection of old mail, and a small orange plastic cup that held toothpicks and a couple writing pens. Manny gave the bottle three good shakes and then opened it up. Aunt El had taken a seat opposite him and was prepared to watch him eat when it hit her she had forgotten his drink.
“Oh shit, I’m gon’ choke you! Want some iced tea or some Kool-Aid?” she asked as if both their lives depended on it. Manny decided on the Kool-Aid. He was here to let his hair down.
Manny ate silently. When he stuffed into his mouth the last piece of bread sopped in crunchy fish crumbs and hot sauce, he was trying to remember to keep his innocent eyes from not seeming too hungry but his greedy mouth moved so ferociously it counteracted the game plan.
“Mmhm,” Aunt El murmured. She made two more plates, the same as the one Manny had just made disappear, and wrapped them in foil. She tossed both plates on the counter space next to the stove and breathed loudly to substitute for all the things she wanted to say. Aunt El walked over to Manny. She grabbed her nephew by the shoulders and shook them lightly. Then she grabbed his face and brought it close enough to where she could kiss it.
“There’s some mail on your bed,” Aunt El said taking a step back and smiling.
Manny looked at his Aunt to ask what had come for him.
“I ain’t open it. I know you don’t like me opening your stuff,” Aunt El said waving him to go on and get it.
“Thanks, Auntie” Manny said walking off toward his room.
College acceptance letters responding to last minute applications that Manny had filled out after fretting that ITAV foundation wouldn’t choose him. Manny tossed them into a wastebasket next to his bed. Quickly he retrieved them. He pulled out the empty tattered Converse shoe box from under his bed and placed the unopened letters in the box. He retrieved all the change he had left in his pockets from shopping earlier and placed it in the box, as well.
Manny sat with his Aunt for a little while longer, telling her about the people he had met and things he’d gotten into while away. He left out the part about what he had saw behind the game show doors at the party and the shit he’d gotten himself into with Hines. He told her about Khia, who Aunt El summed up as “fast and curious” and about Ritz, his personal limo driver, which his aunt responded “mm hmm, I seen his black ass outside.”
Aunt El went to the bathroom and Manny slipped into her room and placed five hundred dollars under her pillow. He quickly went back and stood in the living room and waited for her to come out.
“Leaving?” Aunt El asked when she walked in the room and seen Manny up on his feet.
“Yea, I have a busy day tomorrow” Manny lied. He hadn’t a clue what was on the agenda. The lie however reminded Manny that he had completely forgot to check in with Mrs. Lemon this morning. The money, the shopping, the entire arrangement had swallowed his mind up whole and he hadn’t thought of the internship since Hines gave him the duffel bag. A sense of panic came over Manny but soon left when he thought about the fact the he’d be rich regardless once he finished this shit with Hines. The Internship at best, was now just a way to increase his small fortune and at the very least, a cover for his new role as Robin. Still, he’d check in with Mrs. Lemon first thing in the morning.
“Really? What them crazy ass people got you doing?” She asked.
“Aunty,” Manny said sucking his teeth at his Aunt’s name-calling. He didn’t know the answer to her question.
“I’m sorry, baby.” Aunt El lied. She wasn’t, not even in the least bit. “What was them letters on your bed?” she asked, smiling as if she already had read them. Manny didn’t put it pass his aunt to take a fingernail file to his mail, read it then neatly repair it and give it to him as if nothing had ever happened.
“I dunno yet. I’m taking them with me. I’ll read them when I got back to my room,” he lied again.
“Alright baby, I love you and I’m so happy you came home to see me, tonight,” Aunt El spoke truth.
“Love you too, Auntie,” Manny followed suit.
Aunt El grabbed his face and kissed it a few more times, praying to leave some of herself behind on her one true love to protect him while out of sight. She wiped her face dry.
“Come back soon, baby. I’m lonely here all by myself. I’m going to have to find me a man,” Aunt El joked or at least Manny prayed she was. He cringed.
“Oh and yes,” Aunt El remembered, “grab them plates off the stove on your way out. One is for you, one is for your friend who waited on you out there all this time. I know his black ass gotta be hungry,” she laughed and waved out the door at Ritz, who was alerted by Aunt El turning on the porch light.
Ritz nodded and waved back.
Manny grabbed the plates and left, his aunt staring out of the screen door his entire walk to the car. From inside the car Manny watched Aunt El’s silhouette shake its head and walked off into into its own world.
Ritz was still staring at the spot where Aunt El stood. He looked lost in thought. Puzzled. Manny handed him the hot plate and he was more delighted to get the food than Manny had imagined he would be. Ritz drove away from the house, but paused longer than necessary at the stop sign at the end of the street. He pulled the foil off his plate, grabbed a piece of fish and pressed it into his mouth. Sucking his tongue to savor the flavor, he let out a “mmm, mmm, mmm” as he chewed and then cleared his throat.
“Mr. Wright, your mother sure put her foot in this cat fish,” Ritz was looking at Manny through the mirror. The street lights glowing into the car made it possible for them to see each other in the, otherwise, too dark limo. He stared, waiting for an answer to a question he hadn’t asked.
“Um, that was my Auntie, sir” Manny replied.
Ritz made a noise that at the very least let Manny know he had heard him. His eyes averted back to the plate of food. He used a handkerchief that was stuffed in a pocket on the inside of his jacket to wipe his mouth. He recovered the plate, Manny assumed it was so he could eat later, at a more opportune time. However, the car still did not move.
“How long you been staying here? In this neighborhood, that exact house?” Ritz asked, not so casually, at the same time sucking deliciously seasoned cornmeal from his teeth and peering at Manny through the mirror.
“All my life, sir” Manny answered again, wondering why the sudden interrogation.
“Yeah…yeah,” Ritz said nodding.
“And you about what, eighteen now, nineteen years old, huh, Mr. Wright?” Ritz went on with his twenty-one questions.
“Um, yep. I’ll be nineteen coming up in December.” Manny looked away from Ritz’s beady blue gaze and started picking at the foil on the rim of his own plate. The silence was louder than anything Manny had heard all day.
Oh, my God. Why aren’t we moving? He thought.
“Nineteen in December,” Ritz repeated, not answering, not telling, just saying. Perhaps remembering. He was looking at Manny through the same mirror but now as if he was a completely different person than who he’d been chauffeuring around all day. Not the way you would a stranger in your backseat, however. He was looking over Manny the way you’d look at old friend or foe, even.
Ritz cleared his throat again and finally pulled off.
Copyright © 2017 by Aja Brown Crowder