RULE 86: What don’t kill you will probably fuck you up anyway.
I figured out the deal with Barbarella soon as I met her, but day-by-day she confirmed it; she was just straight crazy. I always seem to hook up with straight crazy women. Hell, that seemed to be my job and Rita confirmed it first by being fucking insane and I loved the shit out of her, and she got me gut shot and I still wake up screaming, seeing my guts spilled all over the ground because of her. I know crazy women because that’s the kind of woman I fiend over and promise myself I’ll leave that shit alone, praying that my drug of choice won’t off me.
Now, there’s Barbarella and I’m back to shooting up dope that will kill me. I need to get my shit together to move on out of here before she comes up with a nefarious scheme that’ll fall apart soon as you breathe too hard on it. But it’s hard to worry about how you living when you’re sleeping with a beautiful freak and you getting paid by her daddy. Kind of hard to wean yourself off that; heroin had nothing on what I was getting here, but I knew it was coming, cosmic pay back. Then she changed up on me.
Suddenly, she was reasonable and responsible, not getting stoned by the pool or drunk off her ass with margaritas. Even her taste in clothes changed and she was dressing like she worked in a real office, though still looked sexy as hell even in a boring, but snug fitting business suit.
This bright morning at the poolside I see her talking to her dad at the breakfast, ignoring the sweet rolls and fruit, squinting at blue prints sprawled across the table. I watch them over the sport’s page; seeing how the Lakers are playing, glancing up now and then to see how the white folks are doing. The old man catches me and waves.
“Calvin, come see this. You need to see this.” The old man is positively giddy. “See this! He said, jabbing at the blue prints.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“I own all this.”
I nod, not knowing what he’s wants of me, or even if I could give it.
“It’s worthless,” he says, smiling like a cat with a rat in his jaws.
I look at them both, trying to see if they’re making a fool of me. Then I realize it’s more
than that. It’s about a game that they’re running on somebody else.
“You couldn’t give away property in the northwest. All that Worthless low rent store
fronts that drug addicts and artists called home.”
“Times have changed?”
He smiles like I had made a big joke. “Times certainly have changed,” he says.
“What’s he getting at is the federal redevelopment money came in,” Barbarella says as
though I know what she’s talking about.
“Is that good?”
“Is it good?” The old man says and starts to laugh so hard that he coughs violently
enough so that Marisela comes running from the kitchen with inhaler in hand. Once he catches his breath, he gives me that million-dollar smile again.
“I didn’t know if I would live long enough to redevelop all this.”
Barbarella pats her father’s shoulder, “We’ve got the backing we need.”
“I don’t have the deep pockets I used to have and I don’t play well with others.”
“So, we needed this. We desperately needed this,” Barbarella adds.
“Not all of my schemes panned out. Sometimes you miss the boat.”
“We owned property too close to the neighborhoods white people are scared to pass
through,” Barbarella says, adding to the picture.
“Oh, yes, there’s money in slums, but you have to have diversification.”
“With this, and Prince’s Minor I’ll be back to being a player.”
“By the way you might want to have your suit cleaned. We’ve got a banquet to go to
“Tonight? I wanted to get a beer and watch the game.”
“You earn your money tonight,” he says, and his eyes harden and I realize that was the
final word on the subject.
“All right then, I’ll get myself together.”
* * *
I guide the Rolls, it’s like driving a semi tractor-trailer, to the curb of the Huntington Hotel and the valets don’t even blink an eye. The rich old man in the back seat gives me all the legitimacy to be there. The valets wouldn’t let me do a thing, but stand there until Mr. Ruston was lowered gently into a wheel chair. After the distribution of tips all around, I thought of holding out my hand to snag one of them twenties the old man was flinging about like Mardi-Gras beads. The valets back off and we get our act on the road. I walk with Barbarella behind the old man, Marisela rolls him along and listening to him bitch about how he hates these banquets, but he had no choice but to go.
“If you want players to do favors for you, you need to do favors for them and that includes spending good, hard earned cash to attend ass numbing events,” he says, but I can’t say I was hanging on his words. They really didn’t have much use for me, or Marisela; I don’t think either one of us would be rolling like we were white and rich and had to worry about how politicians felt about us. I was cool though, I didn’t mind walking behind Marisela because she was brick house fine with a down home butt and serious curves, beautiful brown skin and her thick hair and I like the fact that she wasn’t insane like the people she works for. I know she had a son she talks to on the phone and that he went to a boarding school the old man paid for.
We walk to the Huntington hotel and I felt like I was the only black man ever to walk on that fancy carpet. It was beautiful and huge and if I was boosting I’d want to steal everything that wasn’t nailed down. I’d snatch all that fancy furniture, those landscape paintings on the walls, the fat wallets of the rich fucks who could afford to go here.
We arrive at the banquet hall, the Pasadena Room with a huge chandelier and all the gleaming silverware and crystal wine glasses and beautiful centerpieces with exotic flowers. Usually I’m cool, don’t get flustered, but walking into this room filled with a couple hundred extra rich white people out to run the world or at least their part of it and I just wanted to go sit in the car and wait for the fucking thing to be over. I needed to get my hands on a whiskey or antifreeze, anything to take the edge off.
“First time at the Huntington Hotel?” The old man asks.
“Yeah, can’t say I’ve been kicking it here regular.”
“What? Speak English!”
I sigh, thinking this can’t go on for too long before I snap big time. “This is my first
“Good, you like it?”
“It’s cool,” I say, buttering another roll.
“Good, I’m going to introduce you, around.”
“Me? Ain’t no reason to introduce me.”
“Oh, yes, there is.”
Then a goofy white guy with a comb over came up grinning like a pink-faced
pumpkin with his hand extended ready to shake the old man’s hand.
“Mr. Ruston. Could I have a minute of your time? I heard you received the funding
for the Prince Manor project. You must be very excited.”
“Indeed, I am, Councilman Grummett.”
“I assume you still intend to start work as soon as possible. Have you considered the harm you’ll be doing to the community?”
“What harm? These isn’t anything there that won’t be improved with what we’re
going to do.”
“A lot of the blacks are very upset about this. They say you’re destroying their community, putting up a project in the center of their downtown business district and a lot of homes are going to be leveled.”
“This project isn’t a project. It’s low density and wonderfully designed. A real improvement on the blighted neighborhood you speak so highly of.”
“Blighted? I say those bungalows are charming and with great potential. South of California you’d say they were the soul of Pasadena’s charm.”
“Are you trying to stop me, Grummett, think that will get you the darkie vote?”
“I want everyone’s vote. I’m colored blind when it comes to serving the interest of my constituents.”
“That’s mighty big of you, but I know you have your eye on higher office and I think you want to bust my chops to make a name for yourself.”
“I’m only interested in the job I currently have, but I do have certain concerns about your development and I need to express them to you.”
“You’re entitled, but you’re entitled to get the hell out of my face.”
“If you don’t listen to me I’ll do my best to put up as many road blocks as I can to slow your project and I ‘m sure you don’t want that.”
“Do your best you pompous son of a bitch!”
Barbarella stood up quickly and grabbed Grummett by the hand.
“Phil, you know my Dad’s just joking. You know how he gets when he drinks.”
“Drinks? I haven’t had one goddamn drink since I got here.”
“Mr. Ruston, don’t be unreasonable. I just want a bit of your time to present some concerns my constituents have.”
“As far as this black thing goes, my friend here, Mr. Calvin is the president of the NAACP and he’s all in favor of Prince’s Village.”
The city councilman looks at me for a moment that puts his hand on my arm and leads me away from the old man. I look at him, wanting to push him away, but then he puts his hand out for me to shake it. He smiles like he’s gonna keep his hand out there no matter how long I leave him hanging. I give in and shake it. His sweaty palm feels like sticking your hand between a fat girl’s thighs.
“Mr. Cleveland, it’s a pleasure to meet you again.”
“It’s Calvin Rogue, and I’ve never met you.”
“Calvin? Oh, my god, I’m so embarrassed.”
“What you embarrassed about?”
“Now he looks confused. You’re doing a great job with the NAACP. Pasadena is making great strides with race relations because of your leadership.”
I shrug and sit down. I got no idea of what to say to people like him. He talks like he wants his words to slip down your throat without you noticing them.
“Let’s have lunch. We can discuss the many challenges facing your membership and your people.”
“I nod and look away from him. He waits for me to say something.”
“We can find that common ground, resolve conflicts before they get out of hand.”
I look right though him. What did this fool want from me, hadn’t he figured out that the old man had sold him some wolf tickets?
“We should work together. We could accomplish something.”
I say nothing. This man is stupid like Rodney, but at least Rodney knows he’s an idiot.
“If it’s an issue of support I do have access to funds and grants and we can explore just how we can make use of them for the NAACP and the black neighborhoods.”
“Yes. We have funds for neighborhood development. It could be of interest to you.”
If this fool was trying to buy me, I had nothing to sell, but I was willing to listen.
“So, what do you need from me?” I say, feeling bad that I took the bait.
“Consideration and cooperation,” he says, in a half whisper.
“What does that mean?”
“Get my name out there among your membership and I’ll remember you. I remember my friends.”
I nod. I could see where this was going. I know when a deals going down.
“I’ll hook you up,” I say, and Grummett grins and pumps my hand one more time and slips me a card. “Talk to Mr. Ruston for me. I really don’t mean to antagonize him.”
“Yeah, I know you right.”
The lights dim and Grummett takes off as this skinny white woman comes onto stage and begins jabbering about community involvement. I immediately get sleepy and want to put my head on the table, but then I notice the dinner rolls. Barbarella passes me the basket and I took a few so it wasn’t bad listening to that man yak, but I wasn’t really studying him, I was thinking about that weird ass Grummett and what he was up to. Then the old man starts ranting.
“What the hell does that idiot want? Probably wants a cut off of the top for him and that scumbag, Harrison. I’m not going to stand for that. I’ve worked too hard and I’ve come to close for those bastards to stop me.”
“Calm down, Granddad. You’re right. They can’t touch you.”
The old man scowls at her.
“You don’t have a clue of what they can do. He can hold the project up. I need to know what those sons of bitches want from me.”
Barbarella stands up.
“I’ll find out what’s going on.”
About Rogue’s Rules
Rogue is based on a cousin of mine who came back from Vietnam damaged but determined to figure out how to put himself back together again. Los Angeles of the seventies was probably as decadent a place to be in the United States as anywhere, and I wanted a character who could move through that world and be tough enough to survive and maybe even prosper. Rogue is that character.