Chapter 11 Ether
Manny stood in Mrs. Lemons office, with his hands in his pockets, awaiting his orders for the day.
“The detective called and said he could use you today so I pushed back the home visit with the doctor for next week,” Mrs. Lemon said pointing to a next Monday on her desk calendar. Her nails painted a fresh lavender color to match her dress and blazer.
Shit, Manny thought. He could have spent the day at Khia’s. Instead he’d spend the day with Hines’ crazy ass. Tonight, however, was date night anyway so Manny figured he could wait a couple more hours to see her. Mrs. Lemon gave Manny money for lunch and dinner. Although, now the fifty dollars seemed small he new rejecting it would look suspicious. Also, the internship was all inclusive so he was just taking what he was owed. Manny put the money down in his pocket and began to walk out.
“Oh and Emanuel?” Mrs. Lemon called out.
“Yes?” He turned back round.
“Remember why you’re here.” She said. Even with her smile, her face was stern. Manny had an idea of where she was going with this but he needed to hear her say it to be sure. As much as he didn’t want to hear the words, he needed to hear them out loud. So, it wouldn’t just be in his head anymore.
“Here at Westerlynne, you will come to find that there are many pretty young women. These ladies have been raised from little girls to grow up to marry a certain…caliber, should I say, of fellow. You should steer clear of making any types of relationships other than mere friendship with the residents here.”
Manny nodded but his eyes didn’t meet hers.
“I understand,” he said.
“Now, Raele, I think would be a wonderful fit for you. However, she does have children, I believe” Mrs. Lemon stated.
“She has a child,” Manny said quietly. His thoughts were running from him. He couldn’t get a handle on them. Telling him how he’d never be good enough for Khia. His ghetto ass upbringing were no match for the silver spoon she had been born with. Still, he wanted to get to know her. Besides, she had come on tho him. Right? He didn’t even know anymore. Manny changed the subject.
“What time am I meeting with Hines?” he asked.
“Nine,” Mrs. Lemon answered. Hines would be there in forty-five minutes. The air was a little stale in the small room with Mrs. Lemon and all of her judgment. Manny needed some fresher air. He also needed to get ready. He was already dressed the part, business casual, but now when he went out with Hines he was to wear his vest and carry the gun.
Hines was outside of the Westerlynne Ridge Hotel at 8:59 am. Manny neared the glass doors and they slid apart.
He felt weird wearing the bulletproof vest under his clothes but even more awkward carrying the gun in his back pocket. He sat down in the leather seat slowly, cautious not to trigger something that would leave a hole in his backside.
The bat mobile growled as they rode away from the residential community.
“So where are headed,” Manny asked anxiously.
“The Black House,” Hines said turning the steering wheel.
“The Borgella’s storage warehouse. I figured we should go back to the crime scene.”
“Why the fuck would we want to go there for. That’s where the Borgella are, right?” Manny thought of the package he had watched Hines open and throw down in the foyer. The memory made him cringe.
“Nah, Youngin.’ They’ve cleared out. Plus, you’re wearing your vest right?”
“Yea, but I wasn’t planning on being shot,” Manny said while trying to keep the fear out of his voice. He seen what these guys could do.
“You never know. You got your piece?”
“Yea,” Manny answered. He looked out the window. Before his dealings with Hines, he had never held a gun let alone shot one. He turned back to Hines.
“Hey, man what if someone shoots at my head or my arms or something,”
Hines didn’t take his eyes off the road.
“Duck and dodge. Look for cover,” He answered matter-of-factly.
Manny’s heart was racing. His spit felt thick. He wasn’t sure he had the skill.
Shit, do I duck first or dodge? Or did he mean do it at the same time? What if there it ain’t any cover?
Hines looked to his right and could read the concern written all over Manny’s countenance.
“Like I said, the place should be cleared out. The vest and gun are more for precautionary measure.”
“If it’s cleared out than why are we going there,” Manny asked. Hoping this would be another Aha moment and Hines would pull into the next gas station for a quick U-turn.
“Well, they are asking for way more than I took. That money has to be somewhere. What if the money is still there? Hidden.”
“Don’t you think someone would have gotten to it by now,” Manny asked.
“Maybe, but maybe not. We can’t afford to not look.” Hines said looking at Manny.
“True,” Manny replied, looking away.
After a forty-minute ride, south of Westerlynne Ridge Estates, Manny could hear the tires of the bat mobile crunching and popping over gravel and broken glass. They pulled up into a narrow driveway with no edges. Patches of grass stuck out from beneath rocks. Manny could safely bet all his money that the two cars resting in the front yard had not a chance of ever starting up again. The black SUV, that sat on the side of the dilapidated garage might be of use if it had had tires. The warehouse was big enough for a football team to play a game on its roof.
“Follow me,” Hines said as turned around and slowly began walking up to the wide building with the flat roof. All but one of its ten front windows were boarded up. Hines peered into the dirty window. The double doors had a single wood board propped through the handles. Nail holes in the door’s frame said that at one point in time the door had been boarded up better.
How in the hell is that supposed to keep anyone out! Manny thought. His jaw clenched while his stomach dropped as he imagined a group of angry Haitians waiting for them inside. They may have came in through the back door and kept the board on the front door for illusion, a trap.
The thought didn’t skip the detectives mind. Hines slowly slid the board out of the way and placed it up against the dirty white brick wall. He turned around at Manny and put up his pointer finger to tell him to wait. Hines pulled his weapon from his belt holster and opened the door quick. He stepped in and aimed his gun to left of him and then to the right. He carefully walked to each of the rows of shelves, leaning up against it and peering quickly down its walkway.
The inside of the warehouse was cleaner than the outside. The tall ceiling made the place seem a bit safer. Made it feel open. Made Manny feel like there was less of a chance that an angry Haitian was hiding behind some dark corner waiting for the perfect opportunity to blow their heads off. Still he walked on the detective’s heels. Hines turned around. He looked annoyed. He pointed to an area that had yellow crime scene tape streaming from beams. On the ground had a chalked outline of a body. Manny shook his head no.
“That’s where my partner fell,” Hines said sounding forlorn. “I understand if you don’t want to search there. I’ll take it.” Hines pointed to another spot closer to the entrance.
“You look over there, by the forklifts,” He ordered. “We need to take this place in sections. It’s too big for me to be holding your hand through it. You’ve been paid well to do your part.”
I ain’t ask you to hold my hand.
Manny took offense to the innuendo and his face told it. Still, he thought it was a bad idea to split up. That’s the first wrong move in any scary movie, but he sure as hell didn’t need a babysitter. He took off in the direction opposite of the chalked outline.
The forklifts made it hard for Manny to see Hines but he felt safe enough to venture off a bit on his own treasure hunt. He wondered if he would be like Hines and shave off the top of his findings before reporting, in the event he found the missing millions.
Wooden pallets laid on the ground with huge boxes on top of them. Manny pulled on a box and looked inside. Empty. He imagined that at one point the boxes were filled to the brim with packages of cocaine. On a metal table that stretched from one wall to the other, were utensils that belonged in a kitchen. Across from the table was a makeshift lab with knocked over burners and pots. Along the wall but some ways down, there were four tall blue metal barrels. Large enough to stash money. Hidden in plain sight. Manny tried moving a barrel but it wouldn’t budge. After a few seconds of prying, he lifted the lid and checked for treasure. The sweetened alcoholic aroma hit him hard. Manny dropped the lid and backed away. He blew hard out of his mouth. Then inhaled fresh air.
“What the hell is this,” Manny shouted out to anyone who would answer.
“You find something?” Hines shouted back from another area of the warehouse.
“Yea but not money?” Manny said. “Some weird smelling liquid.”
Hines peered over from in between the slits of a towering shelf. “In those barrels?” he asked.
“That’s ether. Leave that stuff alone. Don’t get any on you?”
A few bars from a Nas dis track ran through Manny’s mind and alarmed him. He carefully placed the lid back on the barrel praying to God that his soul wasn’t already burning slow.
Hines walked over to where Manny was.
“You alright, man?” he asked. Manny was still a bit shook.
“I smelled some of it?” Manny said, his voice right on the verge of panic. Nas’ lyrics still permeating his brain cells.
“What?” Hines looked annoyed and confused.
“The ether. I inhaled it,” Manny said allowing worry to take over his entire face.
“Oh. You’re good,” He assured Manny. “Go out for a minute and get some fresh air. I’m going to look around some more.”
“Alright,” Manny gladly obeyed.
“As a matter of fact, check some of those old cars. See if they’re unlocked,” Hines added.
Manny left the warehouse from a back door because it was closest. He forgot to be scared of the Haitians. He hastily walked out onto a large open field that was twice the size of the warehouse. The grass was overgrown. Five beaters that all resembled cars that had been parked on his street at some point in Manny’s childhood were parked in a crooked row. Manny tried the driver door of a rusted 1990 Pontiac Bonneville. It opened right up. The inside of the car smelled old but better than the barrel of pungent chemicals he had just had his nose in. He checked the glove compartment and then remembered what he was looking for. He had never seen four million dollars in cash but he doubted it could fit in there. He looked at a yellow button that read “trunk release” above it and pushed it in. When he got no response, he tried pushing it again but holding it a little longer this time. Still nothing. The car needed to be on for the release to work.
Manny exited the Bonneville and went on to another. The old tan 1985 Toyota Corolla was also unlocked. On the driver’s side Manny found the trunk release lever down by his feet. He pulled up on the lever and it broke off in his hands, but not before popping the trunk. Excited, Manny jogged to the back of the car and lifted the trunk door. Nothing of value. A tire jack and a few other rusted tools. Manny pushed the trunk door down. It popped back open. He slammed it down once more and it stayed. When he looked up, a stranger, a young man, who couldn’t be much older than himself, stood looking back at him. Manny quickly went for his gun. The man put up his hands quick and then put a finger at his mouth to tell Manny to be quiet. The strangers eyes said he wanted to talk. Needed to. Manny was shaking but something told him he wasn’t in any danger. The man looked hungry. His eyes were sunk in. His lips chapped. Hair grown out and unkept. Possibly a drug addict. Maybe, looking for the dealers who once worked out of this warehouse. He put his gun down but not away. Immediately the young man began speaking.
In a hushed tone he asked, “Are you with Hines? He inside?” His whisper smelled like hard days and nightmares. Manny took a step back and nodded.
“Are you with the Borgella?” Manny asked the guy. He shook his head no, but seemed to understand exactly why Manny would’ve asked.
“Are you Emmanuel Wright?”
Bothered that the estranged man knew his entire government name, Manny asked,“Yea. Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m you,” The guy said still speaking in almost a whisper.
“What?” Manny asked. The guy shook his head and his expression said “nevermind”.
“You have any food?” The young man asked. Pride and embarrassment were things of the past. He looked right in to Manny’s eyes. Waiting. Hoping. Praying. Manny wondered how did a man this young get in this bad of shape. Where was his parents? Then Manny remembered his own story and realized, the guy was right. If it hadn’t been for his aunt, this could very well be him.
“Nah, man. I don’t. Sorry,” Manny said. He reached down in his pocket with the hand not holding the pistol and pulled out the money from Mrs. Lemon. His daily stipend. He gave the man the money.
The guy hurriedly grabbed the charity and pushed it down into his own dirty pocket.
“Thanks man. If you get a chance, come back and talk to me. I could help you.”
Manny looked at the man in confusion. Wondering.
Does he mean come back here? Does he live here at the warehouse? How could he possibly help me? Who the fuck is he? However, out of his mouth came only one question.
“When?” Manny asked.
“Tonight,” The man said.
“I can’t tonight. I’m busy. You going to be here tomorrow night?” Manny asked him.
“God willing,” The young man said.
A resemblance of a smile tried to grow across the bottom half of his face but his top half wouldn’t conform. Manny tried to muster up one as well. He knew he should be asking more questions but the man’s eyes told their own story. Told Manny that their owner was honest, not dangerous but desperate and most importantly informative. His eyes said he had answers. Manny didn’t know what or how. So far he gathered that the man knew his name, knew Hines, and wanted to talk. He wasn’t even sure if what the man knew would be useful. Still, Manny needed to know what he knew.
“Ok. I’ll come back tomorrow about 9 o’clock,” Manny said.
The guy nodded and scurried on his way back to sit inside of a black Dodge Intrepid with tinted windows and four flat tires.
Back in the warehouse Hines was bent over the barrel where Manny had almost been taken out like one of his favorite rappers. Hines’ back was to Manny and he was moving his hand back in forth in a sweeping motion.
“I ain’t find nothing,” Manny said.
“Me neither,” Hines responded coolly and stuffed the small duster into his back pocket.
“But like I said before, we had to at least give it a try. You hungry? My treat.”
Manny was starving. The morning had been long. The night would be even longer.
Copyright © 2017 by Aja Brown Crowder