By Marlon James, from A Brief History of Seven Killings, a novel to be published next month by Riverhead. James is the author of a previous novel, The Book of Night Women. He teaches at Macalester College.
Listen to me now. Me warn him, y’know, my magnanimous gentlemens. Long time I drop warnings that other people close, friend and enemy, was going get him in a whole heap o’ trouble. Every one of we know at least one, don’t it? Them kinda man who just stay a certain way? Always have a notion but never come up with a single idea. Always working plenty of scheme but never have a plan. That was certain people. Here is my friend the biggest superstar in the world and yet him have some of the smallest mind to come out of the ghetto as friend. Me not going name who but I warn the Singer. I say, you have some people right close to you who going do nothing but take you down, you hear me? Me tired to say that to him. Sick and tired. But him just laugh that laugh, that laugh that swallow the room. That laugh that sound like he already have a plan.
People think me understand everything to the fullness. That is not no lie, wondiferous gentlemens, but Jah know, sometimes I don’t learn till too late, and to know something too late? Well is better you never know, as my mother used to say. Worse, you all present tense and have to deal with sudden past tense all around you. It’s like realizing somebody rob you a year late.
So look at me. See all this? From the old cemetery to the west, the harbor to the south, and all of the south West Kingston? Me run that. The Eight Lanes is PNP so they watch them own affairs. Then you have the territory in the middle that we have to fight for and sometimes lose. He used to live in Trench Town so some people have him as stooge for the People’s National Party. But me will take a bullet for him and him would take one for me, too.
But them new boys, them boys who never dance the rocksteady and don’t care ’bout niceing up the dance, them boys don’t work for nobody. Me enforce for the Jamaica Labour Party in green, and Shotta Sherrif control for the People’s National Party in orange, but them new boys enforce for the party in them back pocket. Can’t even control them no more.
Earlier this year when he gone on tour, after begging me to come with him to see London town (of course me couldn’t go, me so much as sleep and is armagideon down the ghetto), he leave certain brethren at the house. Soon as him gone, them boys call ghetto boys from Jungle, because they have a grand scheme. This one boiciferous, like them big scheme you watch on TV where Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry stick up a bank and still get the sexy girl who hand them over the money. We try to keep the peace, me and Shotta Sherrif, but whenever things get out of hand, somebody kill a school pickney for her lunch money or rape a woman on her way to church, is usually somebody from somewhere like Jungle, man who born with no light in them eye. Them is the people that get together with the Singer friend on him own premises and scheme.
One week before the Kings Sweepstakes, five man from Jungle drive all the way down to Caymanas Race Course on a training day and wait for the top jockey, who never lose a race, to come out to the parking lot. As soon as he step out, in him riding clothes, two man grab him and one cover him head with a crocus bag. They take him somewhere I don’t know where and do something, I don’t know what, but come that Saturday, he lose the three race he was in, three race he was supposed to win easy, including the sweepstakes. He board a flight to Miami the following Monday, then poof! Gone. Nobody know where he gone, not even him family. Horse fixing is as old as horse race, but a little people make a lot of money too fast. Too fast. The same week the jockey vanish, two man from Jungle also disappear poof! like they never born in the first place, and certain brethren all of a sudden had to make pilgrimage to Ethiopia. Now me respect Rastafari to the max, and a man have to go to him homeland if that is where he think it be. But somehow all of a sudden when people holding out for money, the brethren with all of it just skip. Who knows what happen to the money.
That was the beginning. From then all sorts bad guzum come to the Singer own house. Con man with con plan in the same house where music need to vibe off pure spirit. I remember when that was the only place any man, no matter what side you on, could escape a bullet. The only place in Kingston where the only thing that hit you was music. But the fucking people soil it up with bad vibes, better if they did just go into the studio one morning and shit all over the console, me no going say who. By the time the Singer come back from tour, mob from Jungle was already waiting for him. Jamaican man head thick like brick. Never mind that the man was on tour and don’t know nothing ’bout no horse race, or that he never cheat no man ever. Jungle man say, the scheme launch ’pon your property so you responsible. Then they take him out to Hellshire beach, saying he need to eat some fish.
He tell me all this himself. Now he is a man who could talk to God and the devil and make them work out they difference — as long as neither of them have a woman. But that morning they come for him at six o’ clock, before he go off to run and exercise, and swim in the river like he do every morning. That was the first sign. Nobody mess up with the Singer’s morning, that is when the sun rise to send him message, when the holy spirit tell him what to sing next, when he closest to the most high. Still he go with them. They drive out to Fort Clarence beach, twenty miles or so from West Kingston but just across the sea and so close that you can see it from across the water. He tell me all this himself. The whole time them was talking they look away, shift from side to side, staring at the ground because they didn’t want him to mark they face.
—Your brethren, him gone in a scheme with we, sight? Your brethren come ’round the Jungle ’cause him want bad man fi do him dirty work, sight? Your brethren bring we ’pon your base fi talk business, sight?
—Seen. But me no know ’bout that, my youth, he say to them.
—Oi! Me, me, me no bloodclaat care what you want say, business go down under your roof so is you responsibly.
—Brethren, how you see that? After the man is not me, him not me brother, him not me son, how me responsible?
—Oi, you, you hear what we say? Me just say it . . . me mean, me say me just say it, you never hear? It happen under your roof and him gone like some stinking bitch ’cause him get greedy, sight? After we show the jockey and say Yow, you better throw off them three race or we coming for you and the baby in you woman belly. We do we thing, the jockey do him thing, everybody do him thing, but your friend and him friend dash out with the money and leave poor man fi stay poor. How people can so fuck up?
—Me no know, star, him say to the man who was doing the most talking. Short, stubby, and smell like sawdust. I know who him talking ’bout. So they say to him, Yow, here how it ah go go, sight? We want we money, sight? So every day we a go send a brother ’pon a bike fi pick up two shipment, one in the morning, one in the evening, you see me?
Him never tell me how much money them ask for, but me still have eyes and ears. Them tell me say is 40,000 U.S. the scam pay off. And them never see none of it. Them must did demand at least 10,000 out of that, probably more. So now they want to pick up to stash of cash every day till they feel they get enough. Him say, No, boss, that is con man business, me nah pay that. And how you fi do the I so? Is 3,000 of you me pay for every day, send you to school and feed you. 3,000 of you.
That’s when the second thing happen, nearly all of them pull gun ’pon him right there at Fort Clarence beach. Some of them man not even fourteen yet and them pull gun ’pon the one man that understand what them have to deal with. But them man is a new kind a man. They operate in a different stylee. Everybody grandiloquent gentlemens, everybody in Copenhagen City, the Eight Lanes, Jungle, Rema, uptown and downtown, know that nobody ever pull gun on the Singer. Even the weather knew that this was a new thing, some different kind of black cloud that nobody see in the sky before. The Singer have to talk the guns, all seven of them, right back into their back pocket, belt loop, and holsters. The next day a man on a green vespa start showing up at the house two time a day, every day.
He tell me this the same day me come ’round to hail him up, smoke two weed and talk ’bout the peace concert. Plenty people say that the concert was not a wise move. Some people already think he support the People’s National Party and that only going make it worse. Some of the people say they don’t respect him no more because Rasta not supposed to bow. You can’t reason with them man, because them never born with the part of the brain that man reason with. I tell him all this, and that he have nothing worry ’bout from me. Truth be, I getting old and want me pickney to see me get so old that them have to carry me. Last week in the market me see a young boy come pick up him old grandfather. He couldn’t even walk good without a big cane and him little grandson giving him a shoulder. Me grudge the weak old man so much me nearly start cry right there in the market. I go back home and walk the street and notice something for the first time. Not a single old man in the ghetto.
Me say to him, Friend, you know me, you know Shotta Sherrif from the other side, just call him and tell him to make them Jungle man back off. But he wiser than me, he know that Shotta Sherrif can’t help either when man with gun gone freelance stylee. Last month a shipment on the wharf just disappear. Not long after then freelance bad boy have machine gun, M16, M9, and Glock, and nobody can account for where they come from. Woman breed baby, but man can only make Frankenstein.
But when he tell me ’bout the boys from Jungle, he tell me like a father who just tell him son something too big for him to handle. He know even before me know that me couldn’t help him. Me want you understand something good. Me love that man to the max. Me would take a bullet for the Singer. But gentlemens, me can only take one.