I found her sitting on the stairs. Her leather jacket was hanging like a bubble around her, a box closing her off from anything that might dare try to touch her. I saw her weakness that day; a burning ash that she ground into the cement when I sat down beside her. I took a chance that day when she muttered a greeting.
“Are you going back?” I asked.
“He’ll have to apologize for lying to me first,” she replied through gritted teeth.
“I don’t mean your boyfriend and his gang; I was talking about back home.” She gave me a short, cold laugh.
“Ha, you mean the home I share with him? The one that gets paid for from top to bottom in dirty money that I can’t ask questions about? Or you mean my drug addict mother in Tallahassee? I mean, maybe by now she’s realized I left her four years ago.”
“Linda, you’re not the girl you were four years ago. Four years is a long time. I’m just saying, you could leave him and the gang, go back to your city, start a different life. The one you would’ve built for yourself if he hadn’t taken you.”
“He didn’t take me, I went willingly. Eagerly, in fact. I was so in love and so thrilled at the prospect of what he was offering.” She hung her head. In time, she gritted her teeth and lit another cigarette. Without another word, we sat there. I was shocked.
“Linda, a man is dead,” I reminded her.
“Hundreds of men are dead,” she hissed. “As long as I don’t know that, it’s alright.”
“No, it’s not alright. Your boyfriend shot an unarmed man at point blank. You saw the video, I know you did.”
“That video never existed, you must be well aware of what happens when there’s a trail.” Linda shook her head and kept her eyes on the ground. Her eyes looked like dark chocolate melted down but warmed by the sun. I missed seeing them look up.
“Linda, you know you’ve been like a sister to me forever,” I told her.
“Jon, don’t try to convince me again. I’ve always told you the same thing.”
“Your days of saying you’re not going anywhere came before this. It was one thing to date a low-level gang member. But he’s moving up through the ranks and you can see it clear as day.” She didn’t respond. “How long before you’re either the new Madonna or dead?”
“Madonna? You don’t know her; all you know is she’s married to the kingpin. And her real name is Garcia. But guess what I know. She has power and influence and respect and money, enough for anything she wants. She says jump and every man in a five-mile radius say how high. And they keep her safe too. I’d love to live her life. So would you, Jon, and we both know it.”
“Madonna doesn’t get to go where she wants, or do what she wants. She can’t talk to her husband, not ever. Because otherwise, she’s complicit in his crimes.”
“You really think that?”
“What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? Ha! You see her as a doll, which I guess makes sense. But, no, she’s never cared about being complicit, at least as long as I’ve known the Madonna. They call her that because she runs the business by his side and manages the legit business.”
I flashed back to the time I found myself face to face with the Madonna- the day I learned you are never supposed to say Madonna by itself. It was close to Christmas, under a million twinkling golden lights. Linda was hosting a party at her place with a hundred of the black suits there. Not one leather jacket in sight; the members who weren’t rich enough to own their own luxury ensembles were either elsewhere or borrowing designer duds from a friend. The lady of the house, back then at least, held legitimacy in high esteem. No riff-raff at her parties, I recalled.
Champagne was flowing, because riff-raffery paid well, but no one cared where it came from. Just that it was there, and it at least looked like it came with no cost. I was roaming around the house, all 7,000 square feet of the property- a sign, in hindsight, that my friend’s gang member beau wasn’t so low ranking after all- and I found the office. I wasn’t thinking and it would never have struck me that I was in the world when guards never fall.
I never did tell Linda what I’d done. The men were still thugs, after all. And the Madonna was there. Raphael was there, by his desk, but he’d been unseated. One woman in the room and one chair in the room, so I suppose it made sense. Gathered around her were maybe five to seven men, including the kingpin himself and Raphael. They were all hunched over to see the computer screen but they straightened to fix wicked glares on me as soon as the door opened. That’s the only time I was her face to face. And, sure enough, it looked like Linda was right. Godzilla herself was running the show.
And speaking of Linda…
She was still sitting on the stairs, ashes on her clothes. Her gaze was on me now; she could sense that my resolve in pulling her away from the gang was mellowing it as I wondered what lurked behind closed doors.
“The thing about love is that once it gets you, you know you’re not going anywhere. Come hell or high water, you fall in love and you stay in love.”
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