By Edele Winnie
Mean streets, wild dogs, crack house. Laughing on the front porch, guarding the stash, guarding the cash, guarding me, queen bee, Queen Sheila of Detroit. I may be thin and short but I’m covered in spikes that no one else can see. They call me Whip Lady because I have a real whip and I once strapped a junkie ‘til he was almost dead. Now everyone walks softly and smiles at me, cause they like happy times. But there’s always clouds, you know, and broken pipes and dirty grit that gets in your eye. You gotta deal with it best you can or go down, fall into the mud, and there ain’t no future with dirt in your mouth.
Jeff Nooper came to us in the summer, saying he’s looking for a safe house to sleep. A whole neighbourhood of empty boarded– up– houses and he wants to sleep at the Queen’s palace! Who are you Jeff Nooper? I ask but he just shrugs and says he’s a guy in-between. Like we all are. Except the queen’s palace isn’t in between– it’s a someplace, with electricity and water- both illegal but no one bothers us cause the queen’s guard sees to that.
Most of the guard are users who still have some life skills left, like walking and talking and shitting in the right places. The coke and the crack take that away from you so I ride them hard, making sure they’re my guards and not rainbow police grasshoppers that will jump away when trouble comes. That’s why I was suspicious when Jeff Nooper, who has been my boarder, sleeping upstairs in the race car room and paying me in bags of groceries, says he wants to join the guard. I know nothing about this schmoe. He smokes weed and sniffs a little, but mostly he keeps to himself and he’s always smiling. Never trust a smiler, ‘cause they know something you don’t. Nooper’s not a real name– probably slang for snooper and that’s what I think he is- some kind of a spy. He’s either blabbing to the cops or taking gum from another dealer who wants my neighbourhood. There’s no shortage of wannabees- Crimson Daddy, with his long red hair or that one armed guy everybody calls the Slot Machine.
Nooper’s working for one of them I bet, or both, but I hire him on– ‘cause then I can control what he sees and hears better. He sits on the porch with the guard and laughs and smiles but the boys are watching him like dogs on a bone. One false move and Jeff Nooper snoops no more.
One of the way–scouts phones us that trouble’s coming in two pickup trucks and the guard jumps to their sniping spots and waits. Two new Ford Sparklies roar up and black boys in the back open fire with a bunch of dicky handguns. I’m watching through the bullet proof glass and it’s obvious to me that this is a sideshow.
“Watch the back.” I snap at Peeker, my number one, who sleeps outside my door and watches me dress through the watch hole.
Peeker runs to the back which is already fully guarded and yes, cans of peas are flying, which are grenades if you don’t know veggies, and there’s a couple AK47s popping at us. But Detroit is a city of wild dogs and you don’t just shoot- that’s plain stupid. My guards ram the pickups in front and shoot the black boys and the heavy artillery in back is taken from behind by some of my guards who sneaked over in the tunnels.
We have a counting and it’s pretty good. The pickups are trash but we’ll use them as road blockers, but we have 14 new guns- 2 of them AK47’s, a couple of grenades and 18 bodies, only three of which are ours. And the grand prize- Crimson Daddy himself, scowling and cursing because he’s been shot in the shoulder and saying he’s got more guys coming, but I know he’s a red headed liar. Story comes out Jeff Nooper captured him and that makes me smile because now I know Jeff isn’t working for Crimson Daddy. We have a serious discussion and some green banana liquor and I get all giggly ‘cause I like winning. We take Crimson Daddy to an abandoned school nearby and make him run around in the gym in his underpants and then I say “do it” and Jeff Nooper runs after him and wrestles him down and then opens up Crimson’s throat with a slick knife.
That night I find a gray hair in with the brown on my head and it upsets me so much that Peeker opens the door and holds me in his arms and I cry a bit. You grow up here and play this crack game and you expect a bullet and it just seems like betrayal when you see death coming from inside you instead. Peeker pretends he understands but I know he doesn’t know puke. He’s loyal, a devoted dog and I decide right then and there to get out somehow and take him with me as a bodyguard. I get on the phones and cook up a huge hefty deal for a little neighbourhood girl like myself. A carload of coke coming from Canada, land of snow and ice, a really big score, with a big pay cheque at the end, especially with the nest egg I’ve laid. So we put the plan in motion and somehow Jeff Nooper hears it from a little rat or something because he asks to see me all private and I invite him up to the Whip Lady’s chamber.
“I hear your leaving,” he says, grinning like he always does.
I want to whip the smile off, but of course I don’t. “Where do you hear this?”
He shrugs. “Who’s the new king?”
I knew this would come, I just didn’t think it would be from him. I had him pegged as a passer- a schmoe who boards for a while, maybe plays, and then moves on. “You want the throne?” I ask. The sucker is still smiling so it’s hard to see what he’s thinking.
“Hell ya,” he says. “Hell ya.”
“Porkchop and Douchebag will kill you,” I say, for I know my guard well.
“Not if I kill them first.”
I shake my head, disappointed. What had made me think that he had more than that? “It’s a game, Nooper, a game. You hafta show them that you’ve got the king stuff. Then they’ll be your puppy guards. “
Nooper nodded and it seemed to make his smile drip off. I got it- he didn’t know how.
“Take the lead, take the point, look out for them, talk to them, watch their backs. “ In this city of broken trust- trust was the real king.
He was all serious and his eyes were big like he was nine and was hearing about twats for the first time. “I’ll try,” he says, and I nod, thinking that’s what all boys think when they first hear about twats.
The plan unfolds and we are waiting on the front porch when we get the call from the way–scouts that the Canada coke mobile is coming up the road. There’s two happy looking ding dongs in the front seat and Jeff Nooper goes and asks them if they have the delivery. They do, and we show them into the garage. Trunk pops and it’s full of cocaine. A retirement’s worth. I look at Peeker and he just looks back at me. I look at Jeff Nooper and he nods like he understands and he goes to the driver’s window and talks to the Canadian fool.
“You boys getting paid good for this?” Jeff Nooper says.
“Yes sir.” The driver says with a smile.
Nooper grins back. “I bet.”
The slick knife appears and the driver runs red. Porkchop drags the other hockey puck out and punches him until his mouth shuts.
“What we do with him?” Porkchops grunts.
Before I can say anything Nooper says, “take him to the gym for a little run.”
All the guards nod ‘cause they like this sport and Nooper walks up to me and slides out a gift so fast it makes Peeker pulls his gun. The present is a license plate.
“We’ll take ‘em off this car and you can be on your way.”
“Okay,” I say ‘cause I’m getting nervous and I really do just want to be gone. Before they take the hockey puck to the gym Jeff Nooper and Peeker load the trunk with bags of stash while I pack my own beauty bag. I get a little misty, queen leaving her palace you know, and think of all the good times I had here. But there’s a bullet hole by my mirror, and out in the hall the names of the dead scrawled on the wall and I feel okay about leaving those things behind. Peeker’s waiting for me in the driver’s seat which is all wet ‘cause they hosed the blood out. The hockey puck is crying in a corner and the guards are taking a last look at me and they don’t look any too friendly. Accept for Jeff Nooper, who’s smiling.
We drive away, out of my rundown kingdom and away into normal land and I can’t help feeling something just isn’t right. Peeker’s as quiet as he always is but when I tell him to pull over he doesn’t and I have to put a pistol in his ear to get him to the side of the road and pop the trunk.
There’s nothing in the trunk but Peeker’s suitcase. I open it and it’s just got his stinking clothes.
What the hell, I’m shouting at him and he’s trying to make me calm down by waving his hands around. The poor jerk is almost in tears.
“He was going to kill you,” Peeker chokes out. “I bought him off with your stash.”
“Who?!” But I already knew.
“The boarder. Nooper.”
I’m quiet now and we sit in the tall weeds by the side of the highway.
“I’m sorry,” Peeker says. “I wanted us to be free.”
The ‘us’ worries me but I suppose it ain’t all bad. I’m still alive while slowing dying. I got no money and a stupid man who prolly thinks we’re in love somehow. I could get a job. Wait tables maybe. Peeker could work too. We could rent an apartment. We’ve got a car. We could go wherever and start new. Maybe start a family.
“Shit flakes,” I say to Peeker. “Get in. Turn this thing around. The queen’s going to take back her throne.”