Love Connection

Powder cocaine supplies had dried up in the white community due to a series of major busts by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The only cocaine available was crack, a form in which cocaine could not be snorted or injected but required smoking. And the main source of crack was in the black community.

A friend hooked me up with her most trustworthy connection.

“His name is Alphonso,” she said: “Don’t call him Fonzie.”

We waited inside a busy downtown jazz club. When he arrived, she introduced us and then departed. I fronted him money for what I considered a relatively small purchase, playing it safe until I knew him better.

He returned a short time later, and said: “Everything’s cool. Finish your drink. Let’s go to the crib.”

The apartment opened into a hallway that went back past the front room to the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. Walls and ceilings in the large front room were painted flat black. It was low budget yet theatrically decorated with an assortment of shaded lamps directing beams of light at various angles downward onto brightly colored furniture creating a shimmering visual mosaic.

Alphonso sat on a white leatherette vinyl couch, and said: “You are some kind of crazy motherfucker, Brian, do you know that? For coming down here with this kind of money. People will kill you for far less. What are you doing with all this dope? Flipping it wholesale? I could break it up and sell it in small units for top dollar, tonight. Make you some real money, splitting the profits.”

The front door buzzer sounded before I could reply.

“I got some people coming up,” he said: “Don’t nobody need to know what you and me got going here. It’s party time. Understand? That’s it.”

“Yeah, I understand,” I said, looking into his waiting eyes, acknowledging his control of the situation.

A tall, heavyset black man wearing black pants, suit coat, and tee shirt, stopped at the opening to the front room, and said: “What’s this white boy doing in here?”

An attractive young black woman in a bright green dress entered the room without hesitating, and said: “You got something against white boys, Earl?”

Earl followed Alphonso down the hallway to a back bedroom, saying: “I didn’t know you deal with no white boys.”

The young woman in the green dress extended her hand, and said: “Hi, I’m Norma Jean.” She looked young and fresh, early twenties at the most. Yet she seemed fearless and self confident as she took my hand and smiled. Then she turned to the radio, she said: “What music do you like?”

I nodded my approval as a dreamy love song featuring passionate voices and lush orchestration filled the room with its acoustical presence at low volume.

“Drink?” she said, hitting a switch, illuminating a wet bar I hadn’t noticed in the back corner of the room: “Alphonso stocks Tanqueray’s London Dry exclusively. You should hear his Tony Sinclair. Better than Rodney Mason. How do you take your gin? Poured over ice, a jigger of tonic, a wedge of lime, that’s how I do mine.”

While mixing our drinks, she sang along with the radio music, and her voice sounded professionally trained. When I asked, she said: “Oh yes, I’ve been singing all my life, in church and in music school. I’m working on a studio album right now and rehearsing for a tour. We’re almost ready to book.”

“You talking that crazy shit again,” Earl said as he entered the room from the hallway.

Norma Jean laughed, and said: “Earl ain’t got no music and he don’t respect nobody else’s music. But he’s my man and I love him. I’m going to need his muscle on the road.”

“You’re going to get my muscle up your ass if you don’t stop talking shit.”

“He’s been promising that for days. I’m still waiting.”

Earl sank into an extra large spherical poof chair with his back, arms, and head supported and his big feet extending out into the room. Closing his eyes, he said: “This is some good shit, Al.”

Alphonso looked at me, and said: “You smoke pot? Wanna try this?”

“I do,” Norma Jean said, singing the words.

The marijuana made me paranoid. Earl was staring at me. What’s going on here? Where’s the crack? Or my money?

Alphonso read the expression on my face, and said: “Earl’s my bodyguard. He’s armed and dangerous. We’re going out on the town to spread that crack around. We ain’t doing it here. I got more people coming. They’ll be here soon. Relax, enjoy yourself. It’s party time, remember?”

Norma Jean played a battery operated keyboard in perfect unison with the music on the radio, humming along and shaking her head in time. After a second gin highball cocktail, my paranoia dissolved along with my inhibitions. Four, five, six, I’m not sure how many people arrived next and went into the back bedroom with Alphonso. But right behind them, two black men, one black woman, and three white women arrived and entered the front room. They all seemed surprised to see me there. Norma Jean fixed drinks for everybody, making conversation like she was the regular hostess.

When a tray filled with small rocks and crumbs of crack cocaine arrived from the back room, everyone except me had a glass pipe in hand. Norma Jean sat down beside me with a lit rock sizzling in a glass tube. “Here, open your mouth,” she said, holding her eyes on me while she filled her lungs with a long toke on the pipe. Then, leaning over, she kiss me, and emptied her lungs into mine. As the cocaine reached my brain in a rush of erotic pleasure I started to wrap my arms around her. But then I noticed Earl watching with an unamused expression on his face and I held back.

Shortly afterward, Alphonso entered the front room, and said: “I’m going out. Wait here.”

Earl and some other people went with him.

Norma Jean filled my lungs with another kiss and this time I put my arms around her and returned the kiss.

“Let’s dance,” she said, pushing herself away and then reaching back to take my hand.

Two other couples were already slow dancing to a soulful lament while a rotating globe chandelier reflected ballroom lights swirling in the otherwise darkened space. Norma Jean fit perfectly into my arms and I wanted to make love to her. But then she began to sing, seriously sing. I had never held a woman singing like that in my arms before, I realized, and I began to sing in return, hesitantly at first, yet she inspired and encouraged me to sing expressively with emotional force. It wasn’t sex, no, but something very similar. And I could still face both Alphonso and Earl when they returned, knowing I hadn’t abused their trust, technically speaking.

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