Panther McDaniels Works for No Man
“My boys have got this place surrounded, man,” Poncey said under his breath, “I roll deep.” He picked up a fry with his uncuffed hand and inched it into his mouth, taking one slow bite at a time.
Panther McDaniels, however, didn’t need to be told when he was being followed, much less when he was being surrounded. Didn’t need to be told to keep guys like Poncey close.
Margie the waitress came and gave them both a warm-up. Her hand shook and coffee slopped into their saucers, but her smile held rigid.
“You just open these cuffs,” Poncey said, chewing on another fry, “I walk out, and everybody goes home.” He pulled the brim of his purple fedora a little farther down over his eyes. “Everybody happy.”
Panther McDaniels smeared the last bite of his dinner roll in some gravy and placed it in his mouth. He looked straight ahead. A stainless steel pie case. To his left, a napkin holder. Wasn’t much, but after you’ve spent five years in the bush, I mean, shit. Might as well be mirrors.
Margie hovered near, not gonna have the cash register want for company aside from the two niggers handcuffed to each other at the counter. The cook stood behind his grill, arms folded. His paper hat sat atop a steel-gray buzz cut and a face only a blind mother could love.
“Ain’t nobody around, man,” Poncey said, “Ain’t nobody gonna know the new bad-ass skip chaser in town didn’t get his man tonight.”
On the street, directly behind them, two youngbloods, hands in their pockets, trying hard to look like they doing nothing. To the left, another one at the door. Surrounded, yeah.
“It happens, y’know?” Poncey said, “No matter how bad a motherfucker you are, there’s always a badder one out there, right? See, thing is, my boys was just supposed to follow you if you pinched me, wait until the time was right to pop your ass. But now, you done made all of our jobs easier, stopping off for a midnight snack. See? We can do this real quiet now, see?”
In all fairness, Panther McDaniels had to, quietly, see and admire the logic of a lowlife scumfuck like Poncey Wilkins. A man who beats his woman so bad, she still lying up in that hospital bed; so bad, her sister finally gets brave enough to press charges. So a man figures he can jump bond and lay low with one of his other bitches. And no cop, man, no establishment cat is gonna give a fuck, some street nigger put his old lady in traction.
And when word comes back to Poncey, there’s a new nigga on the block, this real bad motherfucker out there now, McDaniels, man, he after your ass.
This motherfucker just begging to be made an example of.
“Tell you what, man,” Poncey said, “In my left hand suit pocket is three g’s. Three grand, man, which I know for a fact is more than whatever percentage you gonna pick up on my bond. It’s yours, baby, and there’s more where that came from.”
Some shit just never changes. These streets run deep in Panther McDaniels’ veins, since he was old enough to wipe his own ass. And it’s always the same with these assholes: the money. The money gets you everything, gets you the pride, the respect, gets you the cars, the pussy. Everyone’s got a price, everybody’s on sale, right? Yeah, that’s fine, let ‘em think that.
Let ‘em think that until they can’t think that no more.
“Yeah, there’s more where that came from, man,” Poncey said, “I could use a man like you in my organization. A big buck nigga like yo’self? Shit, who couldn’t use you?”
The V.A couldn’t, that’s who; the Marines couldn’t, not no more. The D.A.’s office, the police department? Shee-it.
So you use yourself. You put up the money, Marcus puts up the front. Yeah, with that big mouth of his, his taste for the finer things, the flashier things, yeah, nice and loud. Let Panther McDaniels do his work unhindered, behind the scenes, yeah. Let Panther McDaniels do his work.
“How that sound?” Poncey said, “Yeah, pretty good, huh, ‘cause you got to know the alternative by now. It’s just you in here, cuz,” Poncey said, “All alone, middle of the night, biscuits and gravy at the all-night diner. I ain’t even here, man, dig? For all intents and purposes, my narrow black ass already out the door. All you gotta do is open these cuffs.”
This is how it is. Didn’t matter you spent five years getting shot at, five years’ worth of gooks out to cut your balls off. Marcus said to him when they started up, “You think these niggas out here ever heard of Khe Sahn, any of that shit?” Telling Panther McDaniels, like he needs to be told, “You got to show these motherfuckers who’s the man, man, or they ain’t never gonna let up.”
Youngblood at the door pushes in, the bell above the door tinkles, and the two on the street slowly inch their way to the door, just outside, covering their boy’s back. Without moving his head, Panther McDaniels looks to his left, sizes the guy up. Recognizes him right away, running buddy of Poncey’s, a tall, skinny cat, scar up his left cheek, goes by Bear-Bear.
Where these cats get these stupid fucking names, nobody knows.
“There’s my boy now,” Poncey said, “Last chance, my nigga. Let Bear-Bear here escort me out or you know what the deal is. There’s two ways we can—”
The swinging doors to the kitchen slammed open, the hinges screaming, and there stood the cook. His shoulders hunched above his head like a bulldog, and when he racked his big ol’ shotgun, Margie the waitress screamed.
“Dave, oh, Dave, what’re you doing?” she wailed.
Poncey actually laughed. “Yeah, Dave, what you doin’, baby?”
Bear-Bear didn’t look as jovial. His gray eyes narrowed at Dave and the shotgun, his hand slid down towards the small of his back.
“Margie,” Dave said, “Get out the back way.”
“Move, woman! Go!” Dave turned his attention back to the counter. “Now you listen to me: I dunno what you niggers are up to in here, but you’re gonna take it outside right now.”
“Get on back behind your grill, papa,” Bear-Bear said, and his voice slid out of his throat like a snake, “This here ain’t none’a your concern.”
“The fuck it ain’t! This here is my place!” Dave’s face reddened and then reddened some more. “My place, y’unnerstand? And it’ll be a cold day in hell before some spook tells me what to do in my own fucking place!”
And as Dave, eyes screwed up in fury, raised his shotgun, Bear-Bear’s arm whipped up and he hurled the knife from its place in his belt. The blade sunk itself halfway into Dave’s shoulder, and Dave’s shot went straight up into the ceiling as he fell backwards into the kitchen. Plaster snowed down onto Dave. His leg twitched once before he passed out.
Before the blade had sung its passage halfway to Dave’s flesh, Panther McDaniels brought his .357 from out his jacket, the barrel gleaming in the fluorescent, and blew Bear-Bear’s right knee off. The shot was enormous in the little diner, and Panther McDaniels felt Poncey tugging on the cuff, trying to flee to nowhere. Bear-Bear’s kneecap shattered, and a bit of bone bounced off of Panther McDaniels’ lower lip.
Panther McDaniels whipped his cuffed hand around, brought Poncey Wilkins in front of him like a shield, and raised his gun at the two youngbloods at the door. But they had already run off, the door left hanging open, their shadows not even visible in the streetlights outside. Poncey’s hat had fallen to the floor, and the purple velvet laid upside-down in a puddle of blood. The air inside was thick with Bear-Bear’s screams, high and reedy.
Poncey was a new man. With Poncey held in place in front of him by a forearm in his throat, Panther McDaniels could smell the sour-sweet of Poncey’s sweat. Poncey trembled in his arms like a girl on prom night, his low whimper in chorus with Bear-Bear’s screams. They stood like that until Bear-Bear was able to regain his speech.
“My fuckin’ leg, man!” Bear-Bear screamed, “You shot my fucking leg off!”
Panther McDaniels leaned down, taking Poncey by the natty hair with him, and waited for Bear-Bear’s eyes to focus on them. When they did, Panther McDaniels said, “Do you see this man?”
“You shot my fuckin’ leg off!”
“Tell your boy,” Panther McDaniels said in Poncey’s ear, “that he’d better answer me.”
Poncey whimpered. “C’mon, man, c’mon, man, don’t, man.”
Poncey whimpered again, and then Panther McDaniels felt Poncey’s chest expand as he breathed in and let out a yell: “Aaah! Bear-Bear! Listen to this motherfucker, man, he fuckin’ crazy!”
Bear-Bear continued to groan and pant, blinking the sweat out of his eyes. “Ah, fuck, man, my fuckin’ leg, man!”
“Do you see this man?” Panther McDaniels asked again and held the barrel of his .357 to Poncey’s head.
Bear-Bear bit at his lower lip and shouted, “Yeah, I see him, man! I fuckin’ see him. And I see a fuckin’ dead man, too, motherfucker!”
“This man,” Panther McDaniels said, “is worth two thousand dollars to me if I bring him in alive. He ain’t worth shit to me dead.” He felt Poncey relax, just the tiniest bit. Panther McDaniels said, “Did you hear that, Bear-Bear?”
“Yeah, I heard you, motherfuckah! Goddamn!”
“Good,” Panther McDaniels said and blew Poncey Wilkins’ head off. He allowed his cuffed arm to go slack as Poncey’s headless corpse dropped with a vicious thud onto Bear-Bear’s knee. Bear-Bear was silent for but a moment, and then his screams rose again. They rose out of the door and into the night. His screams bled all over the city streets. He screamed and he screamed until he passed out, cheek pressed to the cold floor.
Panther McDaniels holstered his gun and brought out a key ring. He opened the cuffs and stood straight, rubbing at where his wrist had chafed at the cuffs. The wail of sirens was coming closer, impending. Panther McDaniels took a second to inspect his handiwork, to stand away from the canvas for just a moment.
Then, with a nod, Panther McDaniels left a twenty on the countertop and left the diner.
Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. Please visit http://attentionchildren.blogspot.com/ for more good times.