Thursday, December 3, 2009

November 1955 ~ by Leon Jackson Davenport of Harbinger*33

November 1955

By Leon Jackson Davenport

She was beautiful, tall, and slender with dark brown eyes in which one can lose his soul; her light skin was perfect, her smile mesmerizing, and her taste in clothes impeccable; she was the kind of woman we all dream of attracting, one that will be the envy of both genders; the women want to be like her and we men need her to love us.

It was November 1955 and I was still basking in the glow of the Dodger’s victory over the Yankees in the World Series. It was made even sweeter because the Dodgers did it with so many Negro players: Joe Black, Don Newcombe, Roy Campanella, Jim Gilliam, Sandy Amoros and the man, Jackie Robinson all played pivotal parts in helping the beloved team from Brooklyn win.

I was drinking Jack Daniels, in a little bar near my office, which I frequent just to be sociable and keep up on what’s happening in the neighborhood, (the combination of good reliable information, a quick right hand and a ready smile usually gets me what I want), I’m not bragging just laying out the facts.

She was walking over to me, gliding as every eye in the place watched her.

“Mr. Gunn? Mr. Jacob Gunn?”

“Yeah, I’m Gunn. What can I do for you, Miss, ah?”

“Jones, Amanda Jones.”

“What can I do for you Miss Jones?”

“I’d like to talk to you in private Mr. Gunn. Can we move to that booth over there in the back?”

“You’re new here aren’t you?” I said smiling. “That booth belongs to Tommy Brown. He runs the numbers in this neighborhood. Nobody sits in Tommy’s booth, not even me. Lets go over there,” I say pointing to a booth next to Tommy’s a little closer to the back door.

“It is quiet and we can talk.” She led the way and every head in the bar turned to watch.

She told me about her predicament: a former boyfriend was threatening her and she was scared. All she wanted was to be left alone and could I pay him a visit and convince him that the best course of action was to move on. She made it very plain, that it was all right with her, if he was slapped around a little in the process; after all, he slapped her around, more than a few times, over the three years they were together. I asked if she had a current boyfriend and her answer was vague. I figured she did and he must have been white and married. He couldn’t get his hands dirty or he didn’t know about the old boyfriend; but the old boyfriend knew about the new boyfriend and he was threatening to louse up her new life. I told her that I’d talk to him. She slid an envelope across the table. In the envelope were three $50 bills and a card with a name and address along with a picture of the gentleman in question. She said there would be another couple of hundred in it for me when I completed the job. I told her I’d have something to tell her in a couple of days. She gives me her thanks and a smile and disappears into the night.

* * *

The next morning I went to the address on the card. It was a prewar apartment building with black and white tiles in the lobby, high ceilings, ornate moldings, and grand archways; it was a beautiful building. I wondered if they had any vacancies, I would have liked to live there. Then I thought about the business I was about and I decided it was only a pipe dream, I was going to kick the snot out of one of my perspective neighbors, not a good way to introduce yourself.

It was an elevator building without a doorman or front desk, so, once I get someone to buzz me in, I could go right up. I had a photo of the target and as I walked by, a guy resembling my client’s former boyfriend came walking out the front door. He had a lunchbox and was wearing coveralls with his name on one side and “Quality Auto Repair” on the other.

While he was gone, I decided to go upstairs and make myself at home. The guy I wanted, lived on the third floor near the back. The front door was locked but I knew from experience, with a little patience someone will let you in. It could be a teacher going off to work; or a factory worker dragging in after third shift; a kid off to school or a mom off to buy groceries. Sometimes it would take a nice smile and nod of the head, but someone will always let you in.

Today it was the teacher; she eyed me up and down, noticing how sharply I was dressed. I wore a fedora, brim pulled low; neatly pressed tan pants with a white dress shirt, light starch and a blue blazer with gold buttons and my shoes were shined to a high gloss. I smiled; that confident, friendly, useful smile that has gotten me out of more scrapes than I could count.

“Thank-you ma’am.”

“That’s miss.”

“Oh, thank-you miss.”

“Gloria, Gloria Powell, from 4c. Are you new to the building?”

“I’m thinking of moving in. Do you know of any vacancies, Miss Gloria?”

“I think 2d is moving. But check with the super and don’t let him swindle you, he sometime tries to add $10 or $15 to the rent for new people.”

“Why, thank-you Miss Gloria, with that information, I’ll be ready for him.”

“Hope you get that apartment.”

“Me, too. Thank-you Miss Gloria, have a nice day.”

“Good-bye Mr.?”

“Gunn, Jacob Gunn.”

“Good-bye Mr. Gunn.”

I offer my hand and she takes it.

“Please, Miss Gloria, call me Jacob.”

“All right, good-bye Jacob.” She pulls her hand away slowly teasing my fingers. I hold open the door and watch her walk down the street and around the corner; she didn’t look back, but you could tell she knew I was watching.

I walked up to the third floor and tried the lock, it was open, amazing in this day an age people still left their front doors open. I looked around the apartment, he lived simply, a small black and white TV was on a table in the corner, the radio on the kitchen counter was tuned to a jazz station; the living room was furnished with a couch and an easy chair placed in front of the TV; a cheap turquoise dinette for two was next to the counter separating the kitchen from the living room, no pictures, not of him, my client or his parents, he’s a loner or maybe an orphan. In the single bedroom he had made his bed, he was probably a military man, judging from the spartan furnishings and the shoes shined and placed neatly in the closet; one, no two nice suits, they looked tailor made, no women’s clothes, no clothes that didn’t belong to him. He was a big guy 52 long; most of the clothes came from Macy’s, there was one suit with a fancy Italian label probably a gift, but from who? The client dropped a hundred and fifty beans without batting an eye. Maybe she gave it to him; she was the kind of woman that would want her man to look good if she was going to be on his arm.

I found his checkbook and a savings passbook; he has a balance of $318.76, really $328.76 in the checking, (he forgot to carry the one) and $1521 in savings. That seems like a lot of money for a mechanic, he could be saving for a car, he could almost buy a new Chevy, or Ford, but if he wanted a Pontiac he was a few hundred short. I wondered if he earned it the old fashion way or if it was a payoff to keep silent.

Well, I got the lay of the land and it was time to go, I put everything back the way I found it, because I was going to come back tonight and have a talk with Mr. William Little. I checked the hallway, no one was around, and as I closed the door, I thought “Mr. Little it has been a pleasure getting to know you.”

* * *

He left for work around 8am so I figured a half hour on the subway, arriving at work about 8:30am; 8 hours working; a half hour for lunch means he’d clock out at 5pm; another half hour on the subway home, arriving around 5:30pm; add another hour to clean up and eat he should be ready for our little chat around 6:30pm tonight.

I came back around 6pm just in time to see him leaving. I admit I was curious how Mr. Little spent his evenings so I followed him. He stopped at a payphone and made a call. It was a local call because he only put in one nickel. I was too far away to hear who he was talking too or what was said, but I could see that he was very upset. A minute or two into the call he began to strike the side of the telephone, over and over, harder and harder, faster and faster; like he was beating out a message, suddenly he shouts something into the telephone and violently hangs up.

“I bet I know where he is headed next,” I say out loud.

The name of the bar was Kate’s, it was a nice neighborhood bar that served food, which looked and smelled good; it had my favorite beer on tap, Schlitz, and if you were of a different mind, Budweiser and Miller High Life. The prices were reasonable, Kate was friendly, and the other patrons were into minding their own business.

I took a seat near the back, ordered pastrami on rye and a beer, and watched Mr. Little drown his sorrows.

It seemed that Mr. Little preferred Budweiser, which was the only thing I found, so far, that wasn’t likeable; well, except that he likes to slap dames around. I couldn’t do much about the former but the latter I was going to address later tonight.

I finished my sandwich and left a healthy tip for Kate; and then I went to Mr. Little’s apartment and waited for him to return. Again, he left the door open and I slipped inside. I sat in the living room chair with the lights off thinking I’d surprise him, he was a big guy and even after a few drinks he could be hard to handle.

By the time he got home he was tight, not drunk but you could tell he was feeling it. Fumbling with the door he managed to get it closed and was feeling around for the light switch when I spoke.

“Mr. Little?”

Startled he hit the light switch and spun around.

“Who are you and why the fuck are you in my living room?”

“Mr. Little I have been asked by a young woman, Miss Amanda Jones, that I believe you know, to ask you to stop bothering her. She feels that your time together, while somewhat amusing, is over and the smart thing to do would be to have no further contact with her.”

“What business is it of yours? That is between me and Amanda.”

“I was asked, by Miss Jones, to deliver this message to you.”

“Right, like I give a good god damn.”

“Mr. Little, you should give a damn. I’m here to deliver the message; and come to an equitable accommodation; so, I can overlook your unfortunate outburst, but understand I will protect my clients interest, vigorously.”

“Okay, what’ll she pay?”

“I’m not authorized to discuss that with you.”

“Then why am I wasting my time talking to you? It is like I told her on the phone tonight, she gives me what I want or I’ll tell her fine, married, white boy, not only isn’t she white but (here is the cherry on top): I was there first; big, black, me. I’d bet that little cracker will run for the hills or back to his wife’s bed, if she’ll have him, and Amanda will be left out in the cold.”

“Mr. Little, I‘m here to see that doesn’t happen.”

“Who’s going to stop me? You?"

He was three inches taller and 35 or so pounds heaver and well muscled. I was a star football player in college, starting at fullback and linebacker, and I was the place kicker too. I never did mind a little scrap; I enjoyed it occasionally; it felt good besting another man with fist, knife, or gun it didn’t matter to me.

Mr. Little charged me; I stood up and relied on a skill learned on the gridiron. I gave him my 35-yard field goal kick, right in the balls, which dropped him to his knees. A quick left, left, right, and he was finished, curled up on the floor holding his nuts and trying to regain feeling in his face.

I sat back down in the chair and waited until he could talk. After a while he spoke.

“You son-of-a-bitch! I’m going to rip your balls off.”

“Really? That was my 35-yard place kick; you know I made field goals from 40 and 45 yards, too. Would you like me to demonstrate? I usually don’t like to kick a guy in the nuts, (there is something unmanly about it), but for a guy that likes to slap dames around I will make an exception. So, Mr. Little are you going to leave my client alone?”

“No way! She tossed me aside. I was saving up for a ring. We could have been happy, next month I start with the Transit Authority, that is a real good job, it pays well and we would have had a good life. I just don’t understand, why wasn’t that good enough, why wasn’t I good enough?”

“Get off the floor, Mr. Little and sit over there,” I say pointing to the couch, he groans, rises and sits gingerly on the couch.

“You got a hell of a kick mister. I guess this is where you tell me that if I don’t stop you will come back and show me that 40 yard kick, huh?”

I nod.

“You won’t have to come back, I got the message. Mister, would you give her a message?”

“What is it?”

“If it don’t work out for her, she can come back. Tell her, I‘m sorry I hit her and it won’t happen again. You are right; I was listening to a man on the corner from the Nation who said, “If you berate and beat your women you damage yourself,” he was right. Tell her mister, please.”

“Alright Mr. Little, good-bye.”

As I closed the door, I looked back, at the broken man sitting with his head in his hands. Like I said before, she is the kind of woman we need to love, so, imagine the heartbreaking pain, to have that love and all of her and then lose it.


Harry said...

It looks like you've been using your rehab time constructively Leon. Great read! I think a Jacob Gunn series would be a hit!

Michael Solender said...

Amazing tale. Cross between Dragnet and Sam Spade - a little Bogey and Jack Webb in this guy - great homage to the Katester giving her a bar, making her friendly and leaving her a big tip. What a guy. This piece just took me right back to the 50's i saw the whole thing with your grand descriptions - It was swell!Feel Better, though if this is what you can do when you are at half speed, look out world for the hat man.

Kate Pilarcik ~ absolutely said...

HEY there ... I already "am" friendly ... but sure as shootin' like that I got a signature bar out of this BIJOU showcasing. Echo, echo all that the cool boys up there just said ... We want a series, Leon! Jacob Gunn's just begunn and folks'll remember they read him here first AT THE BIJOU!

As MJ said, so timely your depictions -- I grew up around a turquoise formica table that I know Mom and Dad must've bought in the 1950's. Your rehab may be writer's dream'scape. (Remember when Anthony was on cold meds -- man oh man, did he crank cool stuff out then.) (Hey, if Ant comes around, tell him I like to read him when he writes cold sober too, but . . . just sayin').

~ Kate, who has the teals and knows how to use'em ... thankin' you again for the honour of debuting Jacob Gunn here AT THE BIJOU of Web*City.

Shoogs said...

Goodness, LJD, this is so good that I'm speechless...

Shoogs said...

Okay...I've recovered and enjoyed another read. If Katie owns the bar, can I be Miss Gloria, the teacher in the hallway? :)

Crybbe666 said...

What a great story. A series would be perfect. Loved the dialogue and the settings were superb. LJD, congrats on making Sugar speechless...that alone is praise enough!!

L J Davenport said...

Thanks everyone, it was fun to write and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

Great period feel... Hemingway would be proud; So would Mosely...

Heck, even Easy Rawlins...

Paul D Brazill said...

A beut of a classy tale.

Jodi MacArthur said...

Very nice, Leon. This Jacob Gunn is an insightful fella. I'd sure love to read more of him.

Laurita said...

Wow, Leon. This was such a great story. I can definitely see a full series with this character. This wasn't just dialogue, I could hear him speak.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it took me so long to get to your vivid story. Your imagination impresses us all. I agree with everyone...lets have a series of Mr. Gunn.