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The Taco Bell Heist

by Robb White

Odraye Maybon Dremel IV was poorer than a shithouse rat and that was the entire problem and story of his life. Out in the street he was called OD and wore his Levi’s below his buttocks so that his paisley boxer shorts were exposed to every passing car on Station Avenue; he wore extra-large white T-shirts like all his boys and kept his do-rag wrapped so the two ends flopped like tiny rabbit ears over the middle of his face. He woke up late, spent his mornings watching cartoons, his Moms had the satellite dish, courtesy of his dope-slinging cousin Venard.

The front door to the house was canted at a crazy angle–also thanks to his cousin, who happened to be running full tilt when he collided with it, and it just happened there were two white boys—cops—a half-step behind him, panting, batons and titanium flashlights at the ready, hoping to be able to get close enough to Venard so they could lay a couple good licks on him. That was some motherfucker, he smiled. He liked telling the story, had all them ass-scratching crimeys laughing. They could laugh, too, because big, tough Venard, down on the river in the state lockup, wasn’t around to do anything about it. Three weeks after busting through Odraye’s front door, Venard shot a cop in the face off 38th Street because of a warrant over some stupid traffic beef. Now he had a death penalty on him. Too bad but fuck him; what did he ever do but push weed, buy stolen satellite dishes, and make babies?

Odraye was a father, too, and that was a big part of the problem; his baby’s momma was on him all the time about money now–money for clothes, money for food, money for toys–but shit, he had to live too, didn’t he?

Truth was, Odraye was worried. He had to make an appearance every day, he had to represent. Time was, you didn’t see fifteen, twenty youngbloods his own age hanging out on the corners in the middle of the day like this. Money was tight. Niggers from Cleveland, niggers from Erie, even niggers from Youngstown where the goddamned dago mafia was still supposed to be in charge–it all made for one combustible lifestyle in Odraye’s hood. His boy Marquis got hisself all fucked up, too. His girl Tangela having a baby, and he ain’t got money either so he walks into a bank with a note and a toy gun and gets himself a fifteen-to-life bid at the state pen in Youngstown.

Odraye missed the feeling of power from his high-school days when he and his boys ruled the corridors, took money from the white punks, and had all the blonde pussy they could handle. During football season when his body, taut with muscle after those brutal two-a-days, sprinted down the sidelines, and he imagine every female in the stadium watching him with desire. Venard had been quarterback when he was a sophomore and they were both all-city, all-county. Their TD hookups always made the sports pages. Venard’s momma was white, which gave him a tan complexion. Odraye mocked him one time for having black freckles splashed across his nose and cheeks like Morgan Freeman–but his cousin showed him why nobody ever messed with him over that mulatto shit. He looked slow, his eyes half-shut. Then he hit Odraye under his heart with a right uppercut that left him nauseated for an hour. While he lay there gagging on the sidewalk, he could hear laughter, someone had even called him a bitch.

The glory days were gone, long gone.

Odraye looked out the curtain at the street. “Slingers, bank-robbing fools and death-row bitches—all we got in this family,” he whispered to himself.

He had a letter three days ago from his girlfriend’s lawyer, and though he couldn’t understand all that legal mumbo-jumbo, he knew what paternity and putative father meant. He had told her and her mother both–that ugly, skinny witch–that wasn’t his baby. Told his Moms, told everyone, in fact: No, man, that bitch spreads like peanut butter. It ain’t mine. The DNA test was going to hang him by his own dick and he knew it. You just had to look at Marcellus to see that that was his, had his smile even without all its teeth in its melon head. The boy even had that exact mocha skin color as Odraye, and even had his hip-hop athlete’s shuffle.

Shit, he didn’t have the three hundred it would cost. “I pay you back,” he mumbled over his cereal. She said she was going to have to take the money out of her savings. Then out came the biblical quotations and the Jesus hoodoo-voodoo about the forces of darkness. He lowered his face closer to the cereal bowl so he wouldn’t have to hear it. He had tried to drown her preaching ways out ever since he was a kid, but it always ate like acid in his guts.

Today was the day he changed his luck. The thought warmed him right in the pit of his stomach as he walked down the front porch steps. He might be leaving the house poor, but he was coming back rich, no doubt about it. He touched the Beretta’s grip lightly with his fingertips–just the thrill of having the barrel against his skin stirred his bone to life.

Everybody knew Odraye went for any good-looking white girl he could nail, which is why Shyla wouldn’t let him see his own son. But nobody knew his secret. Odraye once had himself a white boy from his high-school. When Odraye was a senior, he saved him from a serious beat down after the little fool sold bags of parsley around school for weed. Odraye ordered the punk to suck him off. Just like that faggot Demesio Lee, who used to suck off guys behind the elementary school for a dollar apiece.

When the kid was caught in a stolen car with five thousand dollars’ worth of stolen video equipment, he was sentenced to the county’s youth facility and Odraye never saw him again— until six weeks ago when Barry Reece left a message for him with a couple slingers from 44th Street when he stopped bought a rock.

Odraye didn’t connect the name at first. Then he remembered how the kids used to mock his name: Oh boy, lookie here, we got us a Reece’s Pieces . . .

“’the fuck he want with me, Dio?”

“Fuck if I know, man. He ain’t say. He say he want to talk to you about something’.”

Odraye took the number and looked at it. He called him that night. Barry worked at a fast-food in Cleveland on Chester Avenue just off the Shoreway. Confinement had done nothing to remove his desire to take other people’s property, he said, and he told Odraye he had a plan to rob the Taco Bell across the street from his place.

“The manager’s in on it,” he said. “We can’t fuckin’ miss.”

Reece worked the grill on the late shift at Burger King. His Taco man insider said his place ran the drivethru until two a.m. during summer hours, but they locked the doors at midnight. “A duplicate key, a single robber with a gun—the day’s receipts are bagged for deposit and kept in the middle drawer of the manager’s desk inside his office—you’re in, you’re out. We split two ways.” The take was about five, maybe seven, thousand.

“Taco manager’s a stone junkie, got a monkey size of me on his back,” Barry told Odraye. “The guy can’t kick the heroin so he has to have money,” Barry begged him. “You can’t pass this by, homes.”

Calling him “homes” like that, the stupid little whigger . . .

Odraye asked why he didn’t do it himself. Barry replied, “Even with a rod, who’s going to take someone my size seriously?” Odraye said he’d think about it.

“Don’t think too long, bro,” Barry said. “Call me by three.” He handed him the digits on a piece of paper.

Odraye thought about the lawyer’s letter; he knew what he had to so. “Time to step up,” he thought. It wasn’t going to be no 50-50 split, no matter what the white punk thought.

They met before Barry’s shift at his rental place on Canal Street about three miles off the Shoreway. Odraye promised to give Dio fifty by Saturday night if he let him borrow his clapped-out Escort. Dio knew better than to ask a brother what was up.

The place was a dump. Odraye knew he wasn’t going to end up like this–slinging burgers for chump change, living in a place where there was no TV, probably rats under the floorboards. His tiny fleabag apartment on Canal overlooked the Cuyahoga River and the inner-belt traffic from downtown Cleveland, which was so close it made the windows rattle.

“You should see the Bell on a weekend night,” Barry said. “Makes the White Castle in the theater district look like a four-star restaurant. Place is full of crack whores and drunks. Half the night crew is on parole or zonked on speed. Customers drive up all night, they, like, tokin’ right while they’re ordering food and shit. It’s crazy, OD.”

Now he’s using my street tag, Odraye thought. Damn but he was going to fix this mutt when the caper was over. Reece was still going on about all the goofs and druggies. Odraye figured he’d better him play him for a while, act like he cared about this shit. He took the blunt Reece offered.

“. . . this one fiend, the guy, he’s got, like, these big eyes and he’s sweating up a storm and mumbling shit you can’t understand.”

Odraye cracked a smile, nodded.  Fuck this little cracker asshole.

“The meth customers are the best, man, twitching and spazzing all over the place,” Barry said. “The whole place is tripping on weekends.”

“Can you trust your guy?” Odraye asked.

“He’s cool, my man,” Barry said. “No problem.”

Odraye was getting a little queasy from the joint Barry passed him. It was more potent than the wet he and his boys doctored up.

“Check these out, bro,” Reece said. He dumped a box of hollow points on the table in front of Odraye. Odraye held one of the black snub-nosed shells up to the north-facing window like a diamond dealer inspecting a gem.

“You just nick somebody with one of these babies,” Reece said, “his fuckin’ arm will fly off.”

“Listen to me,” Odraye said and grabbed him by the shirt. “You better be not be high tomorrow night, motherfucker, and we ain’t shootin’ nobody, you hear me?”

“Yeah, yeah, chill, homey,” Barry said, spinning it with his fake blaccent. “We’re good. It’s just for show, man.”


In fact the plan was simple enough. The manager would lock the door at midnight as he did every night of the week. Barry would give Odraye the duplicate key just before the door alarms were set. Barry, eyes glittering, acted as if it were all so obvious, how to rob a place and divert suspicion.

The money would be bagged and ready for him in the second drawer of the file cabinet on the left side of the cubicle; the safe would be left open. The manager was going to throw a few bills around to make it look like the robber was rooting around inside the office. Barry loved telling him this next part. “‘Surveillance cameras inside, naturally,’” the guy says, “so you’ll have to hit him to make it look real.”

Barry handed him the nickel-plated .44 Magnum.  “So you’re just gonna hit him with this?”

“Hey, fuck you,” Odraye fumed. “I ain’t into no murder shit.”

“He got no alibi, Odraye. Better clock him good.”

Odraye rolled one of the Black Talons between his finger and thumb and thought about its terrible fragmenting power, blasting flesh and bone into pink mush.

The surveillance camera behind Burger King was Barry’s alibi. At exactly five minutes to midnight until ten minutes after he would be on camera–except for the moment when he would meet Odraye and hand over the key and gun at a designated place just out of view.

“It’s a blind side,” Barry said. “Everybody knows that, so if we want to smoke a joint on break, we go there.”

“Why not just give me the fucking key and the fucking gun right now?”

“Because when I hand you the stuff in the parking lot, I’ll know you ain’t pimpin’ me out,” Barry said.

Odraye leaned across the table and pulled Barry up close he was out of his chair. “You forget that—that Ocean’s Thirteenshit, ya hear? Put it back in your fucked-up brain, little boy.”

Odraye made a vow to close accounts with Barry Reece tomorrow night. He drove back on Route 90 at a slower-than-normal speed and prayed Dio hadn’t left any gear in the car. He knew he already stank of weed from that high-octane blunt.

He seized up every time he passed a statie. They seemed to be all over the interstate; they were pulling cars over like lions picking out antelopes on the savannah. Driving While Black was still a big crime in Northeast Ohio. One of Odraye’s last high-school memories was of a warm spring day his senior year in history class half-dozing while that kike history teacher droned on about Stalin’s purges of the Red Army and the Politburo, whatever the fuck that meant. He was cupping Shyla’s right breast from behind, feeling her nipple harden through the skimpy halter top which barely contained her mounds. Then the Jew quoted that badassed dude Stalin: “‘Two can keep a secret if one is dead.’” She giggled; then she purred. The carmine tip of her tongue darted out to lick the air.

“Don’t nobody say I didn’t learn nothing in high school,” he thought. Then his mood darkened as he thought of her lately: nagging, bitching, screaming about the money he “owed” her and Marcellus.

Be a man, he told himself. Tomorrow night, it happens.  Before he jumped on the interstate, he had picked out a spot in the Flats down by the river where he could lie low until eleven-thirty. The Tribe was playing Boston. He passed an LCD billboard sign on Riverfront Road advertising some dyke named Melissa Etheridge in town for a concert at the arena where Number Twenty-Three, King LeBron James held court.


In the one ill-lit of a parking lot near Shooter’s, he kept hitting the fluorescent button of his watch. His face was shiny with sweat. “Just pre-game tension,” he thought.

At ten minutes to midnight he was in his spot at the Burger King–just a few cars from where he had planned to be. The checkout girl, a lumpy retard, smiled back at him. At five minutes to midnight, he felt himself get a hard-on from tension wiring him up. He wiped his hands on his baggy shirt and noticed they were trembling. At two minutes to midnight, and no Barry, he was twitching from adrenalin-charged anxiety. He pounded the shit out of the sun visor.

Then he saw Barry walking right toward him—oh no, the stupid shit was staggering.

“Jesus, oh Jesus,” Odraye said aloud. “He all fucked up on weed.”

Barry dramatically paused in front of Odraye, dangling a key from his fingers like a tiny silver fish. He leaned into the window and smiled. “Tole you not to worry, man,” he said in a too-loud voice. “The fuckin’ cameras can’t see this far out in the lot.”

Odraye felt a big drop of sweat sting him in the corner of the eye. I’ll kill this little motherfucker when it’s over . . . He snatched the key out of Reece’s hand.

“Gimme the gun, motherfucker,” Odraye hissed.

Reece lifted up his shirt. The black butt of the gun stuck up next to his bellybutton.

Odraye grabbed it and jammed it into his belt.

Odraye pulled into the Taco Bell lot and jammed his Escort into park; the last of the customers walked out. Reece wasn’t exaggerating: middle-aged hookers, derelicts, and teenagers on the prowl. For one long, dizzy moment, Odraye thought he was going to erupt into a fit of hysterical laughter. He actually began to get out of the car before he got himself under control. Got-damn, he was going to enjoy double-crossing this little fool.

He firmed a band-aid across his cheek. “If they see something, let ‘em see that,” he thought. He wrapped a couple folds of an Ace bandage around the palms of his hands like a boxer–just in case he had to make contact with anything that could take prints. The last item was one of Shyla’s nylon stockings jammed down to his collar.

He speed-walked the short distance to the doors. The key fit. He felt the deadbolt slip and he pushed open the glass doors. He knew where to go—the partition separating the food handlers from the cash register gave him plenty of room. Odraye was so pumped he just missed cracking his skull as he cleared the counter in a two-handed leapfrog that propelled him onto the slick tile floor and made him skid off balance into a stack of canned tomatoes. He went sprawling across the greasy floor. In seconds he scrambled back to his feet, racing to the back where four employees were handling drivethru duties. “Don’t let anybody spot you from the window,” the manager told Barry. “The whole interior is lit up like one big stage.”

Odraye discovered four open-mouthed youths staring back at him. One wore a head set for taking orders. Time slowed to molasses. Odraye pointed the gun at the floor and barked them down. “Get down, motherfuckers! Move! Now!”

They all went flat simultaneously–the fat girl’s eyes bugged up at him. The other girl started to whimper, so he told her to shut the fuck up. He put the gun barrel to the nape of her neck. She whimpered louder, so he jammed it into the flesh hard and said for her to shut her mouth or he’d blow her head off. Terrified, she loosed her urine. One of the males looked up at him, straining against the ties, and pleaded, “Please, man, we don’t keep no money back here.” Odraye stepped to him and whipped the barrel across his forehead opening a bright gash. “Shut up, nigger!”

His eyes boxed the room for the surveillance cameras. There were three covering the room including the closed-circuit TV out front. Their eyes bored into him. When he turned, he noticed a grossly fat middle-aged black woman sitting in her car staring directly at him! Both her hands gripped the steering wheel and her mouth was a pear-shaped hole. He could almost hear through the glass the high, keening noise a decibel below dog-whistle she must be making in the parking lot. It was like in his nightmares where he was being chased by bangers with guns: he tries to run but his legs won’t go—should he run outside to stop her? No, they’ll scatter from the floor like cockroaches when the light’s turned on. He couldn’t decide what to do.

“Oh fucking God,” thought Odraye. “This can’t go no more wrong.”

But it did.

He bolted through the door separating the two halves of the back room and crashed into the glassed-in cubicle where the manager’s office was. He saw the safe—it was closed.  He saw the file cabinets; they were secured shut. No Taco man. He raced to the office door and found it locked. It was one of those cheap pine jobs that blew in with a couple hard kicks. Odraye pulled at the desk drawer, forgetting he had the key in his pocket. He fumbled it out of his pants and tried it. It wouldn’t turn; it didn’t even fit the keyhole. He saw a fire extinguisher in the corner. He banged it savagely against the drawer until it popped open. It was empty, nothing but Ohio air in it. The rest of the drawers were unlocked but all he saw when he pulled them free and dumped them onto the floor were ordering sheets, manifests, file folders, receipts and records—all bullshit!—no damn money!

A voice in his head shrieked:  Get outrun like a motherfucker . . .

Without a glance backward, he tore out of there as if sparks were flying from his shoes; he ran like his favorite cartoon: the Roadrunner hightailing it from Wile E. Coyote. His momentum crashed him into the Escort’s side. He cranked the engine with an ear-piercing screech of metal because he had left it running (oh fuck me), reversed it too hard and tore a bright metal gouge out of the right front fender when he scraped the guard rail. He almost stood on the brakes as he flew into the oncoming traffic and nearly t-boned a Chevy SUV.

His eyes burned with red-hot hatred. Oh, he would take little pieces off Reece if it took him all night.

But the traffic on Prospect at that very moment gave him a miserable shred of luck in this nightmare. The plan was to go right out of the lot and work back toward East Ninth toward Canal Street.

Oh God, Oh God. The words rattled around in his brain like angry bees. His plaid shirt over his sweat shirt was glued to his back. He drove on automatic pilot, barely aware of traffic lights and almost clipped a pedestrian on Broadway.

By the time he swung onto Canal, he was calm. No sirens or cherry lights behind him. He was going to start by breaking all Reece’s fingers one at a time, snap-snap-snap, thumbs last. Then he would use his buck knife to take off his ears and nose . . .

“Make that little cocksucker scream,” he yelled into the wind blasting his face out the window listening for sirens. Odraye would never stop hurting him.

He parked on the street down from the rental house. The night sky was littered with stars, the Dog Star high overhead, and he smelled sewage from the river. Mosquitoes buzzed in tiny clouds around his head, drawn by his sweat. The two houses on the other side of the street looked abandoned. He headed for the back of Reece’s house. He heard raccoons scuffling in some garbage bags near the edge of the driveway where empty lots of scrub brush and stunted bushes laced with creeper vines made them look like rows of hump-backed camels in the moonlight. Rickety steps led to a landing behind the small kitchen. He noticed both back windows were dark.

On the small landing, Odraye listened for sounds. He could see nothing through the soot-smudged window. He touched the knob. The door was open.

Odraye took out his buck knife, thought better of it when he recalled the Black Talons in the Chief Special. He pushed the door open with his fingertips. Somewhere beyond was a bedroom off the bare sitting room; except for a tiny bathroom, that was all there was to the upper floor. Barry had told him on his first visit that the downstairs was unrented since the landlord kicked out the crackheads and huffers.

His eyes adjusted. He saw light leaking out from under the door to the bedroom. He’d grab the little stoner right out of bed before he knew what was happening, pull him by his hair, stuff a rag in his mouth, cuff him with his own plastic flex ties to the radiator and then go to work on him. The night was young.

He checked the bathroom and nearly slipped on water overflowed from the shower. He nudged open the bedroom door, held the big gun sideways like the bangers in his rap videos, and inched into the room. He made out the sleeping form of the boy lying on his bed—no doubt still wasted. With his left hand he found the switch plate and swatted it but no light flooded the room.

His eyes adjusted in the pale light from the windows. He went up to the sleeping form. It wasn’t Reece. It was some white guy with skinny shanks in jockey shorts. He was bleeding from a head wound. The dent in the pillow where his head lay facing away from the door was filled with a small pond of blood. Odraye stared in utter fascination at the way it had pooled around the sides where his head lay, how black it appeared in moonlight, and most of all, what was left of the dude’s head. The edges had turned a crusty-looking brown. Up close, the coppery stink of blood mixed with something else: the guy had crapped himself. Odraye, a D minus student on his best day, had watched enough forensics shows to know what a bullet traveling through a man’s brain in bullet-time could do to the body it left behind: the bowels evacuated and then everything stopped: no hair or fingernails continued to grow; every cell stopped permanently.

He moved around to the foot of the bed where more blood had flowed past his lifeless, outstretched hand and dripped onto the floor. The jagged remainder of his face reminded him of the time he stuck an M80 in a dead cat’s mouth.

He looked down at his British Knights and saw them rimmed in blood. He backed out of the room and went across the hallway feeling his stomach revolt and barely made it to the sink before a stream of yellow vomit splashed the bowl. He thumbed the light on and this time he heard the hiss of fluorescent bulbs. The shower curtain was spattered with blood. The walls were painted with it and there was hair and brain matter, bits of bone, and chunks of gore like a barfed-up stew lying in a comet’s orbit where it had circled the drain.

Odraye’s knees turned to wax and he stumbled back into the hallway, staggered like a blind man feeling walls. His brain was screaming. An icy hand clutched his guts and shriveled his scrotum sac as if he’d sat on a block of ice.

He wanted to be gone—just whooshed away like the Rapture his grandma used to talk about before she fell out. He saw her in the kitchen gumming her food.  He squeezed his eyes shut and cursed. Not only was his picture taken all over the Taco Bell, he had just planted his signature all over the murder scene: fingerprints, bloody shoe prints, hair, skin cells for all he knew—he could never get it all cleaned of the traces of him. He looked back at the crisscross of footprints.

“Thass why he couldn’t give me no key to the file cabinets,” Odraye whispered to the bare walls. There was never supposed to be a key in the first place. Taco man was a junkie, not a moron. He had to know he’d take the pinch once the cops figured a key was used.  Then, again, the Taco manager was never in on any robbery in the first place because this was a calculated set-up right from the start. Reece had played him like a two-dollar whore.

Odraye groaned and pressed his hands to the sides of his head. They’d all be looking for this crazy-ass, gun-toting nigger who tried to rob the Taco Bell. They wouldn’t bother with a motive for the dead guy in the sack. Felony robbery with a gun, felony murder one . . . Sweet jumping Jesus.

He flashed back to an image of Barry coming from behind the Burger King—Odraye never did see him actually inside the place. No one could place him there or put the two of them together. Reece, a gadget guru like he always bragged on himself, never had so much as a TV in this shitbox, no food in the fridge, no furniture, no nothing. It was just a junkie’s crashpad. How had he missed all the signs of something not right? It was his need for the money that blinded him. And something else . . . a dim memory burned into the back of his brain. The day he humiliated Reece on his knees, he heard him mumbling something about “anybody can be made to wear a dress.” It made no sense.

When he heard the sirens wailing their hi-lo sound down Canal and saw the lights bouncing off the walls of the houses, heard the slamming doors, he knew he didn’t have all the answers yet, but he knew one thing for sure: he wasn’t going to die in a gangbanger blaze of glory like those stupid Compton niggers in the tunes he loved.

Lucasville, Ohio. Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, E Block, Cell 24

Odraye called Reece’s mother, only she had a different name now and lived in Indiana. She bought his story about “being great high school friends,” she even accepted phone charges, to see if he could get a line on him. She said she hadn’t seen Barry in months and never wanted to see him again. She said she found a loaded over-and-under shotgun hidden in the cellar of her house, which she promptly reported to his parole officer. She thought he was going to use it on her and her new husband. “Barry’s real father is locked up in Lima. That’s where the put the criminally insane. They did tests on Barry when he was held in the reformatory. They said he’s an emotional dissociative with antisocial traits.”

“What—what do that mean exactly?” Odraye inquired.

“I asked the same thing. They told me he’s a sociopath,” she said.

Odraye wasn’t sure what that meant either, but she clarified it for him a second later: “He’s a vicious, cold-blooded psychopath,” she said. “I’m scared to death of him.”

When the clanging of steel got on Odraye’s nerves, he’d recall the smirk on Barry’s face as he casually sauntered up, handing Odraye the phony key, muttering some dope-fiend gibberish, pretending to be high. Odraye was too hyper at the time to recall anything clearly but what Barry said made no sense. The more he replayed it in his mind, the more it sounded like this: You’re going to tell me someday how the dress fits.

The Aryan Brotherhood ran D Block. Blacks were housed in A and C Blocks. The AB members had done a deal, money changed hands, and Odraye was left without protection.

After the first beatings, he begged the captain of the guards on his shift to get him reassigned, but the only place where he would be safe was in the SHU with the snitches. He spent a year there before he was returned to the general population, and it started all over again. “Blanket parties,” as the guards called them. This time, however, he was gang-raped in the showers. They took turns on him, a half-hour at a time. After the stitches and the wounds healed, he saw Hykeem Doss wink at him from the chow line one day, and then he knew what was coming next.

While he was mopping down the corridor, he saw a familiar face being escorted past by two white guards. Odraye looked up and recognized his cousin Venard, just out of segregation. “Yo, cuz, what up,” Odraye said, but Venard just looked at him. He thought he heard one of the guards call him a “punk.”

Time went by differently once Doss made him his woman. Everybody knew better than to disrespect a man who ground a sharpened bedspring into a new fish’s eye because the boy had failed to realize he owed twenty dollars for asking Doss a simple question. Hykeem laughed from deep in his chest: “Anybody axe me a question, that is my legal fee. Ain’t no different from any other lawyer,” Hykeem said to him at chow when Odraye asked him why he did it.

When he first had his stitches taken out, he was greeted with kissing noises and whistles as he walked by. Hykeem made that stop once they set up house. Doss was a lifer who would never leave prison except to go to the convict’s graveyard down by the river, where the Rose-of-Sharon bloomed.

He cried when Doss told him he had to start wearing dresses, but he soothed him and said that was how it was in prison when you got married. Doss also asked him to wear his hair longer on one side and used mascara that the other ladies had showed him how to make with ingredients smuggled out of the kitchen. Doss took care of him. Even that hillbilly captain of guards showed Odraye respect.  Hykeem promised to teach him how to deal with fear. You ain’t afraid of me, honey, is ya?

If only he could get those words out of his head, he might sleep better, but it got into his head and wouldn’t go away, those words from another life when he was free. Sometimes it stayed inside rattling around until he nearly went crazy. Tell me someday how the dress fits . . . how the dress fits . . . how the dress fits.



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