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Authors: L. E. Newell

the grind dont stop

Also by L.E. Newell
Durty South Grind

Strebor Books
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Strebor Books
P.O. Box 6505
Largo, MD 20792

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are
products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance
to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

© 2011 by L.E. Newell

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means whatsoever. For information address Strebor Books, P.O. Box 6505, Largo, MD 20792.

ISBN 978-1-59309-364-8
ISBN 978-1-4516-1771-9 (ebook)
LCCN 2011928058

First Strebor Books trade paperback edition January 2012

Cover design:
Cover photograph: © Keith Saunders/Marion Designs

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To my brother James “Jimmy” Newell Jr.,
and the real love of my life, my mama, Mama Marion



The Prologue

Chapter One: As The Hood Turns

Chapter Two: The Game Heats Up

Chapter Three: A Hustler'S Dilemma

Chapter Four: Even Good Girls Gotta Have It

Chapter Five: Scamming The Scammer

Chapter Six: The Freaks Come Out at Night

Chapter Seven: Snazzy Bitches on the Prowl

Chapter Eight: Get Back Times So Sweet

Chapter Nine: Bang-Bang, Things Heat Up

Chapter Ten: Dealing with Scoundrels

Chapter Eleven: Hunters on the Prowl

Chapter Twelve: Enjoying the Spoils

Chapter Thirteen: The Hunters and the Hunted

Chapter Fourteen: Nitty-Gritty Time

Chapter Fifteen: Chasing the Hunters

Chapter Sixteen: The Sh— Hits the Fan

About the Author

Reader Discussion Guide

Durty South Brind Teaser


First of all, I'd like to thank GOD for not allowing me to give up on myself—for inspiring and continuing to inspire me through the trials and tribulations to keep pursuing my dream. For without GOD's guidance I couldn't have developed one word, one sentence, phrase or idea toward the beginning and the ending of this project.

I'd also like to thank my mama, Mama Marion—how she likes to be called—for birthing me and my sisters, Janet and Debra, who have continued to support me despite my hard-headedness to do the right thing; and my brothers, Jimmy and Mike. I'd also like to thank my nephews and nieces who've stuck by me, too.

To Robert, we call him Bobby, “Hollywood” Washington; you would, too, if you ever met him. He's a character, my main man, adviser and manager, who has certainly played a pivotal role in getting all this done.

To my buddies from back in the day, who traveled hand in hand through the triumphs and failures of surviving the street life. I choose to leave them unnamed for obvious reasons.

Special thanks goes out to all the writers I have used to teach me about how to write by reading their works over and over again until I got it right. Nikki Turner, Zane, Michael Baisden, Omar Tyree and countless others. Oh yeah, and Charmaine Parker, thanks, lady. Thanks, guys and gals, for without your brilliant styles I wouldn't have been able to develop my own.

And finally to Sister Michelle Renee Donaldson, my inspirational adviser, who has continuously encouraged me throughout the years that I could accomplish whatever I set out to do despite the odds as long as I put GOD first and foremost in my life. She's always saying that GOD is in my corner and heart, and with Him, all things are possible. Thanks, Chelle, you are wonderful.

The Prologue

parkle's breath came in raspy gasps in the stifling humidity as he struggled to keep his footing with each uncertain step in the soggy terrain. The light breeze slithering through the dense foliage gave him little comfort as he swiped at the sweat that stung his eyes as it rolled down his face. His knees ached from what seemed like hours of squatting on the sloped embankment. He needed to keep out of sight of the passing cars and late-night strollers along the sidewalk some twenty yards away.

The pungent odor of damp, dead vines and tree roots had him bending over on the verge of puking several times as he waited patiently for his boy Rainbow's signal. They'd split up after entering the mini jungle. He sighed in anguish, silently cursing the spur of the moment plan. But let Rainbow tell it and he'd swear to God it was one of his most masterful ones; as he did with all of his crazy ideas.

One look around and it was obvious that it definitely wasn't. But naw, I had to go on this crazy shit with him anyway, even when I knew it was fucked up. As far as he was concerned they could've easily walked into the club and blasted Black Don's grimy ass, gangster style, for all the static he'd caused them lately. Imagining the wannabe godfather's gorilla grit dissolving into a bitchy sob as he blasted his kneecaps with nine-millimeter pellets was like a rush of top-grade cocaine.

Sparkle leaned against a slimy tree, flexed his legs and moaned under his breath. Suddenly he jerked toward a flicker of light from the other side of the house. Shifting around for a better view, he slipped twice in the muddy leaves and branches, cursing angrily when his boots got snagged by some thorny vines.

The more he tried to free himself, the more his anxiety mounted. He began concentrating on any movements wondering if Rainbow was signaling him or if it was a reflection off of some shiny object like a car bumper. Worse still, was it his imagination playing paranoia tricks from the effects of the cocaine he'd snorted earlier?

He wasn't sure, so he got on his hands and knees and crawled closer. Almost immediately his black fatigues got snagged by the thick vines. Grimacing, he tried to jerk free. “Aw fuck,” he cried out when a thick branch whacked him violently across the face. His trembling hand cupped his mouth as the pain shot sharply down his neck.

Gagging from the repulsive taste of acrid mud that coated his tongue, he grimaced. “Godayum, Nnnngggg.” He grunted as mucus shot from his nose. He grinded his teeth in pain.

“Yo, man, you aight over dere?” Rainbow's voice whispered through the tingling in his ears from several yards away.

Sparkle jerked toward the sound, not realizing that he was that close. He blinked several times before he was able to focus on the look of concern on his boy's face. Sparkle muttered through clenched teeth, “Yeah dog, I'm aight.”

“Whatcha say, man? You've gotta speak up.” Rainbow hissed as he edged closer.

“I said that I'm aight.”

“Don't sound like you aight.”

Sparkle moaned in a strained voice, “Shit, man, I could've sworn you gave the signal from over yonder dere.” He nodded to
the other side of the house and rubbed vigorously between his eyes. “Dayum, dog, this coke's got me tripping, seeing all kinds of stuff. You sure you want to do this here, this way, because I'm jittery as hell,” he stuttered through the pain.

Feeling the stress himself, Rainbow scratched his chin with his thumb. But since they were out there now he felt they might as well get it over with. He turned away from Sparkle's strained expression and looked toward the house. He noticed an eerie mistiness developing.

A watery-eyed Sparkle, still grimacing, flinched when he saw Rainbow's shoulders tense. The pain was all but forgotten as he followed his gaze toward movement in the backyard. They gave one another an intense look before they began creeping on their hands and knees toward the edge of the woods for a better look. Their senses dulled to the slaps of wet branches and sharp thorns as they went on full alert. Both of them flinched when the metallic click from cocking their guns echoed through the night air. Anxious to blast away, their eagerness faded when a lone figure emerged into the halo of light glowing from the open doorway. Simultaneously, they snorted with disappointment as a middle-aged lady wearing a flowery apron wrapped around her rounded waist dropped a garbage bag beside an overflowing trash bin.

Rainbow bumped Sparkle's slumped shoulder and cursed in a low voice full of tension. “Aw godayum, man, who da hell is that?”

Sparkle wheezed just as confused and his disappointment quickly turned into a sigh of relief. He was disappointed it wasn't Black Don so they could've gotten this thing over with once and for all, and he was relieved they hadn't opened fire on the old lady. He tapped Rainbow on the shoulder and nodded toward the way they had entered. It was time for them to make their retreat.

Rainbow heaved with his mouth turned down in disgust, before
resigning to the inevitable, then nodded in agreement. They crept silently towards the embankment, maneuvering carefully around and over the jagged rocks and jutting vines. The stench of the rotten foliage was less bearable and the muddy footing added to their discomfort. They cursed continuously on the descent down the messy slope, slipping and sliding, scraping their elbows, hands and knees before eventually making it to the sidewalk.

Sweaty, bruised, exhausted and frustrated, they mumbled and grumbled, wiping mud and picking twigs off their black fatigues. They made their way toward Rainbow's low-rider Chevy pickup truck. They pressed their guns along their thighs, tense and ready to fire at the slightest target as they turned the bend of the winding road. Once the truck came into view, they became even more anxious and started jerking their heads back and forth, aiming wildly into the darkness.

They finally made it to the truck parked a quarter of a mile down the dark, forbidden road. Wheezing heavy with frustration, they laid their weary necks on the headrests. An eerie mist of rain started settling on the windshield and added to the gloominess.

Sparkle rotated his neck on the headrest, cursing the nauseous effect the comedown from the coke, mixed with the empty feeling of their failed mission, was having on him. He took some deep breaths before squeezing his eyes shut and reached for the crumbled pack of Kool cigarettes resting on the dashboard. Taking a long deep drag, he exhaled the smoke slowly, exhilarating in the calming taste and feel of nicotine.

He looked over at Rainbow and huffed. “Aw man. Why I let you talk me into this dumb-ass shit, I'll never know.”

Rainbow had rested his head and arm on the steering wheel. He cocked a wary eye at him. “What, I talked you...”

Shaking his head up and down, Sparkle cut him off. “Yeah. man, that's right, talked me into this commando bullshit.”

Rainbow lifted his head off of the steering wheel, raised his hands in exasperation and rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Well, I'll be damned.”

Sparkle feigned shock. “You're being what?”

Bracing his back against the door Rainbow coughed and swallowed hard. “Well, I'll be damned if you ain't bitching about a little mud and...”

Sparkle cut him off again. “Nigga, please, a
mud…man, this here's a real live welt across my nose,
.” He hissed, then rubbed the bridge between his eyes.

“Let me see.” Rainbow reached over and pulled his hand from his face. “I said, let me see.” He leaned forward and squinted to get a better look in the dim light. His eyes widened before he jerked back and put his hand over his mouth to try to hide the smile he felt creeping to the corners. “Damn, dog, dat do look kinda fucked up, yo.”

Sparkle turned his face in different angles in the mirror. He turned away and pinched his nose when he felt the laugh boiling in the pit of his stomach. It didn't do any good for as hard as he tried to look serious, he couldn't hold it and grabbed his side and laughed. His forehead was wrinkled as he stared at Rainbow for a full thirty seconds before sighing.

“Aw, fuck you, nigga,” he growled at Rainbow, who had started rolling around in the seat, wiping tears out of his eyes.

Rainbow swiped his forearm across his eyes and folded it across the steering wheel. He moaned and looked at Sparkle one more time before putting the key in the ignition. While the car was revving up, he leaned sideways to dodge Sparkle's wild swing at his head and pulled into the street. They had only driven a short distance before he switched on the windshield wipers to clear the mist that was starting to blur his vision.

Sparkle was reaching over to cut on the radio when the harsh
high beam lights of a fast-approaching vehicle suddenly flooded the interior of the truck. Before it registered, the vehicle was right on their bumper.

“What the fuck?” Rainbow grumbled when the stinging glare from the rearview mirror blinded him. He raised his hand to cover his eyes. Sparkle peeked backward but the pain made him jerk away. There was a shocking boom, as the invisible terror rammed into the truck, jolting them into the dashboard.
Another jolt sent Sparkle head first into the windshield and forced Rainbow to put a death grip on the steering wheel, as he struggled to maintain control of the now swerving truck. No sooner had he managed to keep the truck from skidding when there was another sound that sent shock waves down their spines.
Plink, plink, plink.
The sound of hot metal piercing metal invaded their senses and then the rear window exploded, splattering them with lethal shards of glass.

Both of them hunched over as the shock sent them into near panic mode. The rarely rattled Rainbow was forced to steer with his head barely able to see over the dashboard.
Plink, plink, plink.
Another round of scorching metal screamed over their heads, eating up the roof's upholstery

Fuck this, time to fight back,
Sparkle thought and shifted his body and reached under the seat, where he had placed his gun. He maneuvered around for a better angle. He reached over the seat and started firing blindly. His confidence immediately soared when the blinding light was cut in half, followed by the sound of tires screeching as the charging vehicle swerved sideways and slowed down. Recognizing the bleak advantage with renewed energy, Rainbow sat up and wheeled the car into a quick U-turn. Both of them stuck their guns out the windows and blasted away.

They were still firing when their truck bumped onto the
sidewalk and skidded sideways into some thick bushes. Their bodies jerked around for a moment before they gathered themselves, reloaded their weapons, kneed the doors open and sprung out of the truck. Kneeling behind the doors they pumped lead until their pursuers skidded into a U-turn, before righting themselves and speeding out of range around the winding bend.

With the scent and sight of gun smoke swirling in the air, they slowly rose up and face each other. The combination of sweat, fear and chilly rain had them trembling in their soaked fatigues. Sparkle closed his eyes and twisted his neck in short circles embracing the sound and feeling of the crackling release of tension. Sighing heavily, he stretched a weary arm onto the roof of the truck. “Whadda fuck; how in da hell did somebody know we were out here?”

Rainbow lifted his muddy shirttail and put his gun in his waistband, then leaned forward to put his hands on his knees. Steam hissed through his fingers when he wiped the sweat off of his face. His whole body screamed
when he straightened up and hunched his shoulders. He took a deep breath, eased out of the truck and started circling the vehicle for damages. After taking a head-shaking tour, he eased back into the driver's seat, leaving one foot on the damp road and the other on the running board. With mounting frustration, he braced an arm on his knee to rest his head and stared off into the darkness.

Sparkle let him agonize for about a minute, before he circled the front of the truck and leaned on the open door and faced his boy. Gasping between clenched teeth, he snarled, “Hey, buddy boy, don'tcha think we better roll up out of here before one of these neighbors sends the five-o to check out all of the gun play?”

Rainbow sat mesmerized for a while longer before he slammed the door shut and cranked up the bullet-riddled truck. The tires
spun for a moment before he was able to back out of the bushes and pull into the street. Sparkle barely had the chance to close the door.

They were only about a half mile away from the scene when they heard police sirens approaching fast in the distance. Rainbow refused to let the panic overwhelm him when he saw the red and blue lights on the horizon and turned into the next alley. Since he had been driving with the lights out, he doubted if they had seen him make the turn. When he got halfway down the alley, he turned the lights on and pressed the pedal to the floor, zooming along the bushes and tree-laden path. He alternated between side streets and other alleys until they got into College Park. From there he mixed with the normal flow of traffic on Main Street, through East Point and headed to Lee Street toward his crib near Turner Field.

Both of them were stuck way too deep in their own thoughts of what had just happened for them to have a conversation. Rainbow eased the truck alongside of the gray brick house, into the backyard and parked under an often used, rusty tire rim basketball hoop nailed on the garage door. He laid his head on the headrest. He stretched the seat out and lay back. “Aaah.”

Several tension-filled moments later, Sparkle pulled on the handle and kneed the door open. The only light available was the car's dim roof bulb. “My nigga, I've been wracking my brain all the way over here and I still can't figure out how they could've known we were out there.”

Rainbow lifted his aching body. “Mmm, me too, partner, there's one thing fer sho: we must really open our eyes to anybody other than the two of us.”

“No doubt, no motherfucking doubt,” Sparkle moaned.

As The Hood Turns

he persistent staticky racket on the police band was really starting to get on Beverly's last nerves as she spun around the corner in pursuit.

In pursuit of what, who?
Her thoughts were twisted in a whirlwind of scenarios.
Am I following Lt. Woo because Woo and her squad
of police hoodlums were trying to bust one of her boys? Or am I chasing Rainbow to see if he'll lead me to that bastard Sparkle? Does he or Rainbow know or have a hint of who took out old man OJ? Or if the hit was actually meant for him instead?

Woo was such a valuable asset to erasing the drug problem in the Atlanta Metro area, but she was winding up in places that didn't fit and Beverly couldn't help but to question why. Digging too deep would cause others to formulate questions that Beverly wasn't prepared to answer. For Woo to try getting on Beverly's good side to advance her career was commonplace in the police ranks. She well understood and couldn't really blame her. On the other hand, she wouldn't be able to face her own self in the mirror if she allowed Woo to crack down on her peeps without at least sidetracking her some kind of way.

And that damn Rainbow and Sparkle, UGH!!
How much more could she take of their crooked activities? She couldn't protect them forever like she was a mother hen refusing to realize that these guys were plain no fucking good. She shook her head,
disgusted with herself for even thinking that way about the guys who'd helped her attain her position as police chief. But hell, it was her hard work and dedication to her beloveth Atlanta that had gotten her there. Still without them putting their own freedom on the line, hustling in the deadly streets of the hood to get up the money to pay her college tuition, she wouldn't have even gotten the chance to go to school. And how many dirty muthafuckas had they beaten down back in the day to make life so much easier as she grew from child to adolescent to womanhood to Police Chief. Without them it could've never been accomplished.

Rainbow and his sweetheart of a mama had always been there whenever she had needed a guiding hand regardless of the circumstances. She'd taught her how to be a woman and he'd taught her how to deal with crooks and the antics of the red light district. And then there was Sparkle.

Sparkle, Sparkle, Sparkle. Naw, to hell with that. It's Larry, Larry, Larry. Why did I have to fall in love with that knucklehead, that fuck
ing fool? His crazy ass will never change. But hell, he might.
“Aw, who the hell am I fooling? That nigga ain't gonna neva change.” She wheezed, so frustrated that she grinded her teeth so hard that they started aching.

And those two bitches rolling with him.
She knew Violet and could understand why his so-called “playa-play-ass” would be drawn to one of the best boosters in the city because he loved being the flyest-dressed dude in the hood. Violet was the aunt of one of her best friends, Yolanda, and Beverly had been aware of her boosting legend status for as long as she could remember.
But who is that other little bitch?
She nodded with her mouth twisted downward. She knew she'd find out all she needed to know about her sooner thatn later.

“These bitches must really think I'm some kind of chump bitch or something,” she muttered under her breath in frustration. Her eyes swayed back and forth to the pursuit in front of her and then to the rearview mirror.
She snapped out of her trance when she heard wheels screaming in protest. The car immediately in front of her with Woo and her henchmen of a drug squad pushed through the intersection, barely avoiding the crossing traffic. She had to concentrate on what was happening and gather her police sense instead of pouting about these niggas. She rotated her neck, squared her shoulders and got back into super cop mode.

It was a hit that Rainbow felt; naw, a hit he knew was meant for him. What other reason would that nigga Joker, the nephew of his other partner, “B,” be sneaking gritty sneers at him while he was shooting the breeze at the store counter with Junior's brother, “Big Guy”? He was the longtime part owner of the store with OJ. The three of them had practically raised that little nigga from the diaper into the hustling life. Add that grit with watching Joker's reaction and facial expressions as he dashed from his and OJ's checker game right before the shooting had started. The circumstances and consequences added up to a hit, no matter how you wanted to see it.

It had been some time since he had seen Joker; not since he'd been sent to juvie for blasting lead at a couple of younguns about some slutty little ho. So what had the little nigga been involved in since then? He instantly recalled when Joker, snotty nose and all, used to hide their dope package in his nasty drawers while he, Sparkle and Johnny ‘B' strolled the streets of their little drug turf when they'd first ventured into the game. He smiled to himself
recalling the wide grin on his little face when they'd given him his first pair of Air Jordans.
How old was that little nigga then, around seven or eight?
“Damn, how the years fly by,” he muttered under his breath as he recalled all that crazy stuff that little fool used to get into. They'd have to come to his rescue before the other little toughies smashed his little ass. What in the world had happened to him since getting out of juvie? He didn't have a clue, but he was definite he would find out now.

He shook those memories out of his brain for things had gone way beyond what had happened in the past. His present state of mind was now in killer revenge mode as he jumped into his Caddie and jetted in hot pursuit of those niggas. Mistakenly, he hadn't paid the least bit of attention to Lt. Woo and her drug squad hoodlums parked near the end of the block as his tires screamed around the corner. His only concern was finding out where those niggas were headed.

After screeching through the intersection with the pedal pressed to the floor, hoping to overtake them, he chanced a look into his rearview mirror and spotted that worrisome little bitch and her henchmen.

Oh shit, I got to shake this little bitch first. Because when I catch these little muthafuckas, dey asses have got to go meet their makers. Dey ass got to die, leave this earth. Try to take me out like that. And kill one of my childhood idols. Oh hell yeah, y'all niggas got to die, for sho.

Rainbow was way beyond being a little shaken. He had to get rid of the bitch and her hoodlums, no doubt about it. There was no way he could take the chance of them witnessing him blasting on those fools. He shot down the next intersection and sped up, hoping to lose them.

Regardless of how things had gone so far, Beverly knew she had to get to the bottom of it. And do it without Woo or anyone knowing. Talking about skeletons in her closet, this mess was really getting out of hand. She had to make sure that Woo didn't see her. But how was she going to do that and keep up with Rainbow? She was tailing Woo who was following Rainbow while he was following the niggas who'd thrown down on the drive-by.

Oh shit, has that bitch spotted me?
Beverly thought as she narrowed her eyes when Woo's silhouette angled upward toward the rear-view mirror. Had the little bitch slowed down to get a better look at who was following her?

Beverly knew she could no longer take the chance of being spotted. She made a quick left at the next intersection knowing she was giving Woo the worst possible angle to recognize her. As she was making the turn she saw the car of shooters make a right some three or four blocks ahead. She pulled to the curb, jumped out of the car and sprinted to the corner. She pressed her back to the brick wall of the paint store and did a quick peek and duck back around the edge of the building. She'd seen Rainbow make a right turn a couple of blocks away. She assumed he was either trying to cut them off or had spotted Woo chasing him and was trying to put a move on her. Either way he pressed the pedal to the floor board, speeding down the street way over double the speed limit. She could hear the rubber screaming and see the smoke spiraling in the air from his tires as he jetted away.

It shocked Beverly when Woo didn't follow Rainbow and zoomed down the street the shooters had traveled. Even though she was puzzled why Woo had responded that way, Beverly had seen enough and rushed back to her car.

From the sounds of the radio some of her troops had already arrived at the scene of the shooting.
What should I do now? Go back to the scene?
Follow Rainbow to keep his crazy ass from getting into any more trouble? Follow Woo to find out what the little bitch is really up to? Or put some more troopers on their trails?

While she was contemplating her next move, another familiar vehicle jetted past her and turned left speeding down the street. She shot the car into gear and pulled up to the corner in time to see the car following the path of Woo and the shooters.

She blinked several times at the antennae sticking out of the trunk, knowing it was a cop's car. She zoomed in on the license plate and the silhouette of the driver. It hit her like a ton of bricks.
That bastard.
She grimaced as it dawned on her that it was JR, the deputy chief. “What in the hell is he doing here? What's his connection with all of this?” she mumbled to herself.

The light was red. She'd normally flip on the siren and speed by all traffic signs. But her intuition kept those responses at bay because she couldn't draw any attention to herself.
So what should I do now
? There were definitely too many things happening here to handle all of them at the moment.

She took a deep breath and started across the intersection. For some reason her eyes shot to the rearview mirror. “Now ain't that a bitch,” she cursed at the silhouette of Sparkle in the car trailing hers. Why had the fool jetted away from her in the first place? From what she could tell he hadn't recognized her. So what now? Should she keep going to see what would happen?

She concentrated on his face for several blocks before she decided to circle the entire block to get behind them. Violet and the other girl were both still in the car. For a brief second she considered pulling them just to fuck with them and display her power. To let them bitches know that she wasn't anything to play with. But she had to consider how the girls would react. Would they get loud? That would certainly defeat her purpose of secrecy.
Besides, she didn't really trust how her jealousy would make her act.

For after all she was not only hiding from the authorities but from the street gossip as well. Especially knowing how cops always maintained their own personal crew of snitches. She had an army of them herself.

She followed Sparkle and the girls to the house by Turner Field and settled in the parking lot. She pulled out her mini binoculars to check out the activities of the house.

A huge lump roughed its way down her throat as she watched Sparkle pull up to the curb in front of the house. He leaned forward in the driver's seat to let the other woman out. From where she was sitting it seemed like the girl pushed the seat forward with a little attitude. Violet jumped out of the other side and eased into the front seat with a smirk on her face. One that said,
Aw, little bitch, handle it.

It only meant one thing to Beverly: both of these girls had to be Sparkle's woman. She shivered with jealousy as the car sped down the street. She followed them to a small set of apartments on Memorial Drive. She knew she couldn't park there so she drove across the street and stopped in the supermarket parking lot.

No matter how long it would take, she was going to find out what in the hell he was up to. Her heart pounded with grief and anger as she settled into the seat and pressed the binoculars to her eyes.
It may just be a long night.

Rainbow looked across the table wondering how long it would actually take the trio of young hustlers to master the art of the false shuffle.

Mercedes, the sexy little Vietnamese that had stunned Sparkle with her pole dance at the strip club a while back, was really getting at it. She was definitely concentrating a lot harder than Sparkle's nephew, Stacy, and his number two ho, Princess. He knew that Stacy was getting the big head since he'd been winning with the marked decks they'd schooled him to the last few times he'd played at Al's poker game in Lithonia. In a way he couldn't really blame him after getting skimmed by Al, probably for years. But there was so much more for him to perfect than marked cards. He'd have to bring him down a couple of notches for his own good.

He took a moment to study Princess. Her jet-black, eye-candy physique and intoxicating glare was still sexy enough after all these years to display her like a fine piece of jewelry. He'd yanked her off the ho stroll after only a few months when he decided that she was much more valuable to him than selling head and pussy. She had a sassy, no-nonsense attitude that had proven to be quite an asset when he'd allowed her to run his dope on the hotel route along I-20. She'd made him a mint in addition to keeping his other bitches on track. Her uncanny resemblance to Queen Nefertiti was definitely a plus as well. He picked the deck up and smiled brightly.

“Yo, Stacy, just because you've learned the easiest way to get your cheat on, doesn't mean you can run slack on the other stuff you need to keep racking up the cash, my man. Believe me when I tell you that marked deck thang's gonna run thin a lot sooner than you think.”

He didn't give him a chance to respond before flipping a card upside down on the top of the deck and false shuffled six or seven times. He could tell right off the bat that they weren't able to keep up. It felt good to see that stunned look on Stacy's face. He knew they'd catch on sooner or later, hopefully sooner, so it was
on to the next phase. He placed a mirror in front of him and started shuffling in slow motion. “My nigga and niggettes, I want y'all to get a mirror and practice like this until you can't see the move yourself. It has to look like your natural deal, feel me?” He waited for them to nod their understanding. “Then I'm gonna grind y'all wannabe slick asses at dealing seconds and off the bottom all with the same motion, okay?”

With faces eager to please the teacher they started gathering up the cards. Rainbow leaned back and shouted for Chef-bor-a-Lady, who was doing her usual throwdown in the kitchen. She was actually his very first girlfriend from way back in elementary school. After all these years of pimping, he'd never even considered putting her through the rigors of that kind of life and she'd stood by his side ever since. His forever bottom lady, was the way he saw it. “Yo, lady, how long did my nigga say he was going to be?”

Lady's cheery puppy-dog face leaned around the corner with her hands full of floured chicken and smiled. “He said something about picking up Yolanda and coming right over.” She twisted her wrist around awkwardly to look at her watch. “That was about a half-hour ago, so they should be pulling up anytime now.”

The words were barely out of her mouth when the car pulled into the driveway. Even before the doors slammed, they could hear Yolanda's and Violet's loud voices arguing about where they were going to off some of the stuff they'd stolen. Violet, Sparkle's main girl, was still considered legendary when it came to the boosting game. Short and thick she still reminded folk of a much older version of Toni Braxton. Back in the day she'd trained nearly all of the pimps' hoes, using numerous gadgets to aid in the art of stealing. Rainbow was still amazed at some of stuff she'd come up with. She was one strong-willed babe who didn't take trash from anyone. And Yolanda was like a darker, younger version of
her Aunt Violet. She was actually an original member of the gang from their kindergarten days. She was Beverly's first and best girl buddy as well as being ‘B''s bottom girl forever. There wasn't a nigga alive that could pull something over on her. Rainbow smiled at the sound of her voice as he recalled the many times that Yolanda had kicked ass right along with them for messing with Beverly.

Sparkle stepped through the door shaking his head and tossed his thumb back toward the yakking duo. “Damn, dog, why didn't you tell me these hoes would be going at it like this here. God-ayum, I've had to put up with this bullshit from the moment they saw each other.”

He paused and broke into a brilliant smile when he saw Mercedes practicing in front of the mirror. Her concentration intensity took him back to the days when he used to do the same thing hour after hour while locked on segregation in the joint.

The glitter in her eyes and high-cheeked smile when she looked up made his heart thump. Shivers tingled along his spine when she purred, “Hi, baby, look at what Rainbow has showed me.” Mercedes did the false shuffle awkwardly but her tiny hands seemed to be made for it.

He bent down and kissed the top of her head. “That's good, sweetie, how about standing up for me for a moment?” She looked puzzled but only briefly before she placed the cards on the table and stood up to greet him with open arms.

He turned to Yolanda and Violet and shouted over their loud chattering. “Hey, can y'all stop bickering long enough to look at her? Geez.” There was an immediate ceasefire to their rapid-fire conversation as they walked over to Mercedes and started circling and spinning her around. Yolanda leaned back bossily and cocked a bejeweled hand on her wide hip before she spoke. “Damn, she
little for a mug, but I think I've already got some stuff in the trunk that'll fit her just right.”

Violet quickly added, “Mmm-hmm and I can easily, well not easily, but I can adjust the straps on the bubble. But can her little ass waddle?” She smiled warmly as she began turning the little honey around thinking of all the ways she was going to train her in the shoplifting trade.

Sparkle smiled and wondered if Mercedes really had what it took for all the illegal stuff he had planned. Then he looked over at Rainbow, who had been ho sitting for him every since he'd made her a part of their little crime family. “Do you think she ready, dog?”

Rainbow rubbed the side of his face and started massaging his chin before he gave a sniffled reply. “My nigga, baby girl here has been picking up on everything like a real pro.” He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and pinched his nose before going on. “Hell yeah, she ready.”

Reassured by the confidence his main man was showing, he smiled down at the little star. “You think you can waddle, baby girl?”

She frowned and shyly whispered, “Waddle?”

Sparkle smiled down at her and then began marveling at the resemblance between the two professional boosters as they studied Mercedes' reaction. Yolanda was a shade darker. They had the same high cheekbones and big almond-shaped eyes. Their hair was cut short with bundles of curls swirling on the top. Violet's hair was dyed blonde while Yo favored a dark mixture of red and brown. Yolanda's breasts were smaller but her hips and ass were much wider. She had one of those high-rise bubble butts. They liked to dress fly all the time; this could only be expected from two of Atlanta's best.

Violet grasped her hips and looked at Sparkle. “Baby, what I'm gonna do is dress her up like a pregnant little doll and just let her shop and observe while me and Yolanda here go to work. Is that cool with you?” She cocked her head to the side and spread her hands far apart waiting for his response.

Before he could reply the telephone drew everyone's attention. Lady picked it up on the third ring. She spoke briefly before poking her head around the corner and held it out to Rainbow. “I think you better hear this here, baby.”

Rainbow snatched the phone out of Lady's outstretched hand and listened intently for nearly a minute.. “How much did they take: They did all that; even after y'all gave up the dope and the loot? Damn, where she at now? Go get her. Is it swollen real bad? You think you need to go to Grady's? He made you do that, too, whew.” He continued to listen intently. “Naw, just stay there. I'll be out there in a little while. Uh-huh, in about an hour… Naw, don't worry about that. We'll make up for it. Don't open the door for nobody til I get there, okay.” He tossed the phone back to Lady, arched his brow in Sparkle's direction and started gnawing on his bottom lip as he headed down the hall. The wall vibrated when he slammed the bedroom door.