So there I was,at this joint on the south side of town. It was a hot, sticky night and all I wanted was a break from the heat… and to be left alone. The bartender just looked at me, so I said, “Give me a whiskey and coke, hold the coke, make it a double and keep em coming.” I had a lot of thinking to do and this wasn’t the time to do it. The bartender grunted, turned around, and poured some whiskey into a glass and set it in front of me. There is an art to ordering a drink and if I don’t get anything else right in this life, at least I got that.
That’s when she walked in. Dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin, with long legs and nails. To be honest, she was beautiful. I was hooked and there was no turning back. But I didn’t let on. I kept my hands and eyes on my drink. I held my breath even though her sweet, sultry scent filled my nostrils and swirled around my brain.
The bar was empty but she took the seat right next to mine. She fumbled around in her purse, clumsily pulled out a cigarette and put it between her lips. She leaned over and touched my arm. Electricity pulsed through my body and lit a fire in my gut. I turned to find her staring into my eyes, “What’s a girl gotta do to get a light in this place,” she asked. Without taking my eyes off of her, I pulled out my lighter and flicked it alive. But I hesitated. . . Because sometimes you’re lighting a cigarette, and sometimes you’re lighting a fuse.
In this excerpt Jett and her dad have dinner together as she tells him about how she and her friends challenged a guest speaker at her class that came to speak making some surprisingly racist claims about the the Civil War and Revisionist History. The night before, she and her friends got together and printed out all of their research about the Civil War, the Constitution and segregation so they could refute what they heard the speaker was going to talk about. Jett tells her dad how it went in class and they have a heart to heart about the importance, and the risks, of challenging the status quo and standing up to injustice. It’s an important moment that will affect how Jett views the challenges she will face in the future.
They got to the front of the line, picked up their food, and went to a table and sat down. Jett ordered a salad and a cup of yogurt and some fruit on the side. Her dad ordered a pastrami sandwich with Thousand Island dressing and cole slaw.
When they got to the table, he looked at her and asked, “So, how did that thing in school go today?”
“Oh my gosh dad, it was weird. This guy came in. An attorney. Said he knows you. He knew I was your daughter. I don’t think he likes you, or me either by the way, I’ll explain later. Anyway, he did this whole thing on slavery, and the reasons for the Civil War and then segregation that was supposed to make the South look like the good guys and the North the bad guys. It was so racist it made me want to vomit. He had this thing where he was saying that slaves actually had it good. He called slavery ‘alternatively compensated labor’ or something really stupid like that. He tried to make the case that segregation and slavery would somehow work for everyone if it was done right and done fairly. It was awful. He made no sense, yet I know lots of people really believe what he says. He knew we had a rebuttal because he saw our powerpoint that we handed out before class, so he was ready. Said we could go ahead and state our case so he can tell us how we’re wrong.
Then, it was awesome. We started presenting our research and talked about all the stuff we talked about last night when we were working on it. We matched him point for point, refuting everything with documented research. He was speechless. Then he got frustrated and started insulting us. That’s when he said he knew you from court. He said that I was just like you because, as he said, I ‘don’t know when to keep my mouth shut,’”
“I see that as a compliment,” her dad said.
“I know!! That’s exactly what I said, that my dad would take that as a compliment. Anyway, he then tried to convince us that black people are inferior intellectually and superior in terms of athletics and entertainment, so that’s what black people should do. He said Asians were good at math so they should be engineers and such but white men are smarter so they should be leaders and white women, like all women, he said, are really just good nurturers. It was so racist and misogynistic. We had a discussion about that and he said diversity doesn’t work and it was bad for me because I don’t really belong anywhere because I’m biracial. He tried to use bullying in school to make his point, saying that there was never a bullying problem before I came along and the bullying is just a symptom of what is wrong with diversity. Then the WHOLE CLASS turned against him and started talking about how there’s always been bullying and it’s just a small group of guys that bully literally everyone else, not just me. I said it’s because they are racist jerks, not because of any societal thing. Then the whole class took my side and talked about how I belong with them because I’m their friend and we hang out together. Melinda, who had been with me making points all along even googled a book he cited and found the statistical shortcomings of the book and refuted his use of that book as proof of what he was saying. Then he just got mad and started griping at all of us, especially me. He said it was all my fault that everyone has these ‘liberal’ ideas now. That’s when our teacher stepped in and told him that we’ve been nothing respectful to him while he has very rude to us and told him to leave the classroom. So he said that he was going to meet with the Superintendent about this. Then he left. It was crazy.”
“Okay. Well, we have a meeting with the Superintendent at 3:00pm Monday. You, me, that guy, Mr Hitchens, and Melinda and her parents, along with that Greg kid that was over and his parents too.”
Jett looked defeated all of a sudden, “oh,” she simply said, “ I guess we’re in trouble now?”
“Don’t worry about it kid. You did good. I’m proud of you. Every act of civil disobedience, no matter how well intentioned and how dignified in its execution, has a consequence. Blowback, it’s called. We’ll manage it. Ashley already spoke to Melinda’s mom. She understands, and she feels you kids did the right thing too. We can invite Diana, if necessary. She’s chomping at the bit to get involved. Especially since she has generally destroyed that attorney in court many times. That’s why he hates me. He has tried to break me down on the stand more than once and it just backfires on him each time. Now you broke him down in the classroom. I guess he just feels our family is out to get him or something.”
“It would help if he wasn’t such a racist,” Jett said.
“Yea. It would. But people are what they are. He probably doesn’t think he is a racist. He longs for a status quo that’s been disappearing for decades. Now his generation is trying one last time to make a huge, coordinated push to bring it back; and they are having some success because they’ve focused on the areas where they’ll get the least resistance. Creating that school district/zone, having this guy going to those classes. But then he runs into you, the daughter of someone he sees as a nemesis, and you unite at least one class and they call him out, publicly. He’s not mad at you. He’s mad at what you represent. You represent a future that he fears. A future in which he doesn’t get to dictate what people say and think; a future in which people know he’s wrong. And he knows he’s wrong, but wrong is all he’s ever known how to be, so he can’t change.
“Jett, you’re gonna find that people fear two things: Change and not fitting in. You are change. And they fear you because you won’t conform to fit in. And you shouldn’t. You should be yourself and keep doing what you’re doing. Because that’s way people will accept change. Your friends see it. It’s always the kids that see it first, because they have fresh eyes, that aren’t clouded by the stupidity of bigotry and fear. They’re changing. Even Principle Preston is changing. Your teachers have always seen it. But a lot of people will cling to a status quo even if they don’t like it. And they will conform to something they don’t like if it seems like everyone else is doing it. These guys are using that to change the world back to a status quo they were comfortable with; where they had the privilege and all the advantages, and everyone just quietly accepted it. You are what’s standing in the way of that. Sure, you’re just a kid. A girl in school. But you represent something greater. You’re proof that the bad guys are wrong, and they always have been. You force them to confront that. Just by being yourself. I didn’t plan for that. I’d rather you not have to deal with that, but I’m not going to let you deny it or succumb to it either. You are in the situation you are in and I’m proud of how you’re handling it.”
Jett smiled and a tear ran down her cheek and then put her head down. She picked at her salad and looked up at her dad again. “Thanks dad. But how do I do it?”
“Just keep being yourself. That’s all you have to do. It’s all you’ve ever had to do. You’re smart, you’re strong and you have a good heart. That’s what’s always guided you. Just listen to yourself. And if you get stuck and don’t know what to do, we’re always here for you. Me, Ashley, Diana. We want to make the world a better place too. We’ve seen how bad it can be, but with you, we see how good it can be too. In that way you’ve kind of rescued us from being jaded and cynical about everything.”
Jett teared up again. “I didn’t think I was that important. I’m just a girl,” she said.
“You’re more important to us than you’ll ever truly understand. We’re family and you’re the kid. Everything I do, I think about you and your future and what it means. Ashley too.”
“Ok. You’re being all sentimental. Ashley said you used to be a tough guy. What happened?”
“You kid. You happened,” he said, smiling at his daughter, “and Monday we’re going to walk in there with our heads up and we’re going to stand our ground. We’re going to be polite and respectful but we’re going to be clear that we don’t get pushed around by some two-bit retired attorney who passed his prime decades ago and is now reduced to peddling half rate bogus propaganda to a bunch of high school kids. Ok?”
“OK. Thanks dad. I’m worried about this meeting though.”
“I understand. But try not to worry. We’ll get through it together. We always do.”
Another excerpt from the story of Jett. This one is more sentimental and I actually wrote it for Father’s Day. )
The exhibit was crowded when they walked in. Ashley had helped Jett pick out an appropriate outfit. She was wearing gray slacks and a black blouse with flat dress shoes. Her dad was wearing a pair of black slacks, with a red dress shirt and a matching black blazer. It didn’t take long for Ashley to find them. She had arrived shortly before they did. She was wearing a black skirt, white blouse and black jacket.
“Hey Little Chica,” she said and gave Jett a hug, “I got finished early and came straight out.” To Jett’s dad she said, “I can see why you chose this exhibit. Good call.”
Jett, her dad and Ashley walked around the exhibit and looked at some of the pieces. The theme of the exhibit was “Strong Black Women: Mothers, Leaders and Warriors.” The artist was a young African American artist and each piece depicted black women in various stages of life and in various situations. Some were simply portraits that portrayed strength of character and beauty. Jett’s eyes widened as she took them all in. She said nothing until she saw the one of a woman with a young girl on a busy sidewalk.
“That one reminds me of me and Mama, back in Baltimore. When we were homeless.” Ashley worried that it may trigger some difficult feelings in the girl and shot her dad a look. He waved her off and asked Jett, “Your mom took good care of you, didn’t she?”
“Yea, Mama did. It was hard though. She cried a lot.”
“She was a strong black woman, your mom.”
Jett nodded and looked at a few other paintings. Ashley took the girls hand and said, “Do you want something to drink? A soda or something? Or a snack? I’m about to get a glass of wine. Would you join me?”
“Okay,” Jett said, and went with Ashley to the refreshment room. Her dad, meanwhile, went looking for one particular painting he had seen in a picture advertising this exhibit. He hoped he wasn’t too late. By the time he found it, he also ran into the director of the gallery, who was an old friend of his.
“Whoa! Who is this guy?” he said excitedly, “It’s been years brother. Where’ve you been?”
“Hey!” Jett’s dad said, “Good to see you. I’ve been running the business, working late nights, solving cases and all; and raising a daughter.”
“You have a daughter?? No way! Didn’t see that coming,” he said.
“That’s her over there.”
“With the attractive Latina women? That your girlfriend by the way?”
“Nah. Business partner and friend. And she’s good with my daughter.”
“That’s your daughter with her? You did good.”
“I got lucky to have a good kid. She does well. Speaking of, I need to talk to you about this painting. Who is the artist?”
With this he and his friend went off to an office and talked quietly a moment. The artist joined them and they talked momentarily as well. While they were talking, one of the volunteers placed a red sticker under the painting they were talking about, indicating that someone bought the painting.
When Jett and Ashley returned, Jett handed her dad a cup of coffee and they resumed looking at the paintings. The director of the gallery approached them and introduced himself.
“I hear you’re the daughter of this crazy guy here. It’s nice to meet you, Jett. I’m the director here. And you Ms Garcia.”
Jett and Ashley shook hands with the gray haired man. “You know my dad?” Jett said.
“Oh do I. We go way back. We used to run around downtown together in the same crowd when we were young. Your dad was quite the guitar player, you know. He used to sit right back there in that corner with his guitar, his amp and all of his gadgets and play some amazing guitar pieces during exhibits like this one. He was the man.”
“Cool,” Jett said, “he still plays. He taught me some guitar.”
“Well, he’s the guy to learn from. Haven’t seen him around in forever. Good to see him and really great to meet you Jett.”
As they walked Jett’s eyes widened and she walked quickly across the room to a particular painting. It was the same painting her dad was looking for earlier.
“What do you think of that painting Jett?” her dad asked. Jett just stared at it. In the painting, a young girl, about Jett’s age, was holding a book in her hand. Around her were several books surrounding her, some open, some closed, and musical instruments, a microscope, and other items indicating the arts, science, literature, etc. The girl was looking to the upper left though, day dreaming. In the upper left was an older woman dressed as an Amazon warrior. She looked confident and strong, her eyes were bright and she had a fierce look on her face. She stared off into the horizon as well.
“It’s awesome. I want to be her so bad.” Jett said.
Her dad’s friend, the director, touched his arm and said, “I’ll be right back,” and smiled as he walked off.
The painting was called “The Fierce Warrior.” Ashley put her arm around Jett’s shoulders and said, “She’s beautiful like you.”
“More like you. You’re a fierce warrior,” Jett said.
“I wish Little Chica. But thank you,” Ashley said.
“Jett,” her dad said, “I brought you here today because I wanted you to see these paintings of strong black women. It’s because you are growing into an amazing young lady and one day you are going to grow up and be a strong black woman yourself. I want you to see this so you can know how amazing you are, not just through my eyes, but through your own as well. You’ve had to deal with so much adversity that I thought this would inspire you. When I saw this painting, I saw you. You’re the girl in this picture and you are going to grow into the woman in the picture. You’re going to be a Fierce Warrior one day. You’re going to be a strong, beautiful and intelligent woman just like the women in these paintings. You’re going to accomplish so much that you don’t know yet. It seems the world has so many ways to push people down that I want you to always be reminded of who you really are and who you are going to grow into.”
Jett’s lip quivered as her dad spoke and she started crying. She reached over and hugged her dad as he spoke. When he finished she said, “hormones,” and laughed through the tears. “Thanks dad. I love you,” She said next.
NOTE: This story takes place before Jett confronts the bully, Mike, for the first time.
Mike, his girlfriend, Angelique, and a few of his guy friends, were walking towards her again. Mike was looking at her and sneering as he approached. Her heart sped up and she looked down to avoid eye contact. She was anxious every time when she saw Mike and his friends. Mike was taller than her. While Jett was almost 5’2, Mike was 5’8. Mike was on the football team and lifted weights all the time, so he had muscular arms compared to Jett. Jett was small; a petite 14-year-old girl; Mike was a larger than average 15 year old.
As they walked by Mike reached out and knocked her books out of her hands. They did this about 2 times a week. It would be easier if it happened every day, but it was random and Jett never knew when to expect to see them. Jett’s books went flying from her arms and she stopped to pick them up. Mike stopped too, laughing, and started kicking her books as she tried to pick them up.
“Come on half breed, get the books. You’re making a mess,” he said, laughing at the girl. His girlfriend laughed nervously but Jett could tell that she didn’t really like this. Then Mike dropped one of his books on the ground. Jett looked up him, annoyed, but said nothing.
“Pick it up!” Mike ordered sternly, “Pick it up now.”
“I’m getting my books Mike,” Jett said, “Get your own book.”
“Listen half breed, pick up my damn book or I swear I’ll kick you in the face!”
“Mike,” his girlfriend said, concerned, “Don’t threaten to kick girls. You’re being kind of a dick.”
Jett just grabbed his book and handed it to him. It was usually easier to just give in and get it over with.
“There, thank you. That’s not so hard,” Mike said to Jett, and then to Angelique, “You have to know how to talk to them. Let them know whose boss. They’ll fall in line. Half breeds are like that.”
Jett exhaled in frustration and rolled her eyes at this. She wanted so bad to say something, but she was just too scared. Years of bullying from the same kids had worn her down.
“Did you make a face at me? Bitch.” Mike said, “Go ahead, make all the faces you want. Nobody likes you. You’re not anything and you don’t belong here. You aren’t like us and you aren’t like the kids at the other schools. No one likes you or wants you around. So, pick up your damn books and get out of my sight.”
As Jett finished picking up her books Mike knocked them out of her hands again. “Damn,” he said, “You can’t even get that right. Nobody fucking cares about you.”
With Mike it was personal for some reason. He was relentless in his bullying of Jett. The other kids may join in at the beginning but would start to get uncomfortable and try to distract him or get him to move on. Being biracial made Jett a target for Mike. He would also say terrible things about her dad. Jett identified as a black girl, but that just made it more intense for Mike. He wasn’t shy about his racist tendencies. This had gone on since Jett first started school with these kids when she was ten years old. They would bully her and bully any kids that attempted to be friends with her. Ultimately, Jett felt isolated most of the time and spent her down time either alone or with whatever teacher would offer her company. This year it was Ms Henderson, who would allow Jett to eat lunch with her in her classroom sometimes.
“Dude, let it go. Come on, let’s get to class,” one of Mike’s friends said, nervously, “you’ve fucked with her enough.”
“Fuck you, she deserves it,” Mike said as he walked off with his friends. Jett continued down the hall, nervously clutching her books to her chest and trying not to cry. The other kids looked at her sympathetically but said nothing.
At lunch Jett sat at a table by herself. Ms Henderson had lunch duty so she couldn’t sit in her class today. A couple of other girls and one boy sat at her table, said hi to her, and then started talking to each other. At times they would try to include her but Jett just didn’t know what to say. She would nod her head or say “cool,” and then they would continue talking. At least they tried. Jett sat and ate her usual sandwich and chips. She generally wasn’t hungry, but she would be hungry later so she made herself eat.
After school Jett left her last class, put her back pack on her back and walked towards the drive, where her ride would be waiting. She almost made it to the door when she felt someone pull on her backpack to pull her backwards. When she stopped walking, he pulled the back off her back and dropped it on the floor.
“Whoa. . almost made it half breed. But you dropped your stuff again.” It was one of Mike’s friends.
Jett was tired and frustrated. She looked at the boy and said, “I’m not half breed. I’m black. My dad is white and my mom is black. You can call me biracial if it makes you feel better. But I’m not a half breed. I’m not any kind of breed.”
“Well you’re not fucking purebred, that’s for sure,” Mike said as he joined his friend. “Black, biracial, whatever. Your dad is white, and your mom is black? That’s fucking white genocide. You’re dad’s a piece of shit.”
“Don’t talk about my dad,” Jett said, “He could kick your ass. He doesn’t take crap off anyone.”
“Well, apparently you didn’t inherit those genes. Wait.. Are you sure he’s your dad? I’ve heard about your kind. Hardly ever really know who your dads are. Fuck you Jett. And fuck your dad. You’re a half breed, an animal.” Mike appeared to get angrier as he spoke. One of his friends noticed it and said, “Come on man. Let’s get to football practice.” The two boys walked off. Jett noticed other kids were watching their conversation. She also noticed that two teachers who were in the hallway were trying not to watch.
Jett stifled her tears again and walked outside to the car where Ashley, her dad’s assistant and friend, was waiting to pick her up and bring her to their office. She didn’t want Ashley or her dad to see her cry. She took a deep breath, walked outside and just got in the car.
“Hey little Chica,” Ashley said, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Jett said, and went silent.
“Okay,” Ashley said, concerned, “Let me know if I need to kick someone’s butt for you, ok?”
Jett didn’t say anything.
All the way to the office Jett didn’t say a word. She was afraid if she started talking she would start crying. Today was a particularly bad day. When they arrived Jett got her backpack and walked quickly to the elevator. She didn’t say a word all the way up to the fourth floor. She burst into the room and walked quickly past her dad without saying a word, headed straight for the conference room.
“Hey kid! How was your day? Hey! ” Her dad tried to say, while holding his coffee mug and watching her rush by. Jett didn’t say anything. She walked into the conference room, slung her back pack onto the floor and slammed the door behind her. Ashley walked in behind Jett and approached her dad.
“She didn’t say anything all the way home. Something happened that upset her,” she said, “but she won’t talk about it.”
“Ok. Let me go see what’s going on,” he said, concerned, “that’s not like her.” Her dad followed her into the room and just took a moment to observe her, to see what was going on. Jett was sitting at the conference table with her head in her hands, crying. She tried to stifle the tears when she saw him watching, but it was too late. He walked over to her and started to put his arm around her to comfort her.
“No. I don’t want a hug. If you hug me then I’m going to start bawling all out of control,” she said firmly.
“Okay. I can respect that. What’s wrong Jett?”
“I hate that f.. I hate that school. I f.. Ugh!”
“If you want to say ‘I hate that fucking school,’ just say it. I’ll give you a pass on the language this time. Sometimes you just have to say what you feel like saying to say it right.”
“I HATE THAT FUCKING SCHOOL!!!!” Jett said, loudly, with emphasis on the word ‘fucking.’
“Ok. What is it you hate about that fucking school so much?”
“Dad, no. It’s just kind of weird when you use the F word.”
“Kid, I’ve been using that word since before you were born. What happened at school?”
Jett’s dad sat down in the chair next to hers and she turned her chair to face him, so she could talk. “I hate it. The kids are terrible. I’m always alone. I don’t have any friends. I get picked on and bullied all the time. I’m a nobody.”
“Bullied? Who is bullying you?”
“A group of boys. Mainly one named Mike. He’s a year older. He calls me ‘half breed,’ ‘animal,’ ‘mongrel,’ and a lot of other names. He pushes me, tells me that no one likes me, knocks my books out of my hand, every week. His friends just go along with it.”
“Mike. On the football team? Quarterback? His dad’s on the city counsel? Bigshot local attorney?”
“Yes. That’s him.”
“I know his dad. He’s an asshole too. Have you talked to the teachers or principle?”
“And be a snitch? Everyone already hates me.”
“Then you got nothing to lose.”
“They act like it doesn’t happen. They try not to look.”
“The other kids don’t talk to you?”
“They try, but I’m always so nervous about what Mike may do that I don’t know how to act. And, if he sees other kids talking to me he will threaten them too. He hates me for some reason. He’s racist.”
“How long has this been going on?” her dad asked.
“Since Texas dad. Since Texas. Started when I was ten.”
Her dad looked at her incredulously, “This has been going on all this time and you haven’t said anything?”
“I didn’t want to look weak. I figured I could deal with it. Or it would change. Or something.”
“Look weak? By not telling me about this? You have to be weak before you can get strong.”
“I guess it’s because you and Ashley are always in control and know what to do. I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“Jett, look at me,” he said, looking the girl in the eyes, “You don’t disappoint me at all. Telling me this, or crying, or being weak, whatever that means, is all part of being a kid. So, you’ve been keeping this to yourself for four years?”
“Yes,” Jett said, and she started crying again.
“I’m sorry Jett. You never have to keep things from me. It’s too much of a burden for a kid to carry all alone. You can always come to me, or Ashley, with anything. We’re your family.”
Jett looked down, and then up again. “I just don’t know what to do to make it stop,” she said.
“I’ve never had to deal with racism before. Obviously, I’m white and that hasn’t been a problem for me. I wish I could just take it all on, so you don’t have to deal with it, but we both know that’s not possible. Let’s get Ashley in here, I’m sure she’s dealt with this before. Ashley!”
Ashley walked into the room and approached Jett and her dad. “What’s wrong honey?” she asked Jett.
“Jett’s being bullied by a group of kids and they have isolated her from the others. But the worst of it is that the main kid is racist.”
Jett started crying again and Ashley approached her and put her arm around here and held her a moment. “It hurts. I know. But we have to be strong. Both of us, as women of color we have to be strong for ourselves and for each other.”
“But how?” Jett asked, “I’m just so nervous all the time. Nothing works.”
Jett’s dad regarded the girl a moment, deciding how to carefully say what he was about to say.
“Kid, I’ve never experienced racism directed at myself. But I have dealt with bullies. One thing you must remember about life: The world can be a shitty place with shitty people. That’s never going to change. No matter what you do or where you go, you’re going to run into that. And it’s going to be hard for you sometimes. That’s just reality.”
Jett looked up at her dad, confused and said, “You’re not making me feel any better.”
Her dad looked back and then said, sternly, “I’m not trying to make you feel better. It’s not my responsibility to make you feel better about how shitty people can be towards you. It’s my job to prepare you for it; to teach you how to deal with it, to teach you how to excel and to do what you want to do in spite of it. When you start learning that, then you will feel better.”
“How? They won’t stop.” Jett said, clearly frustrated.
“No, they won’t. But you can’t let that get in your way anymore. It’s time for a change.”
Jett looked at him, confused, and said, “if they won’t stop, then what’s the point? It’s hopeless.”
Jett’s dad looked at her again and then said, firmly, “Stand up.”
“Stand up. Now. Do it.”
Jett stood up and wiped the tears from her eyes.
“They don’t like you either Dad, just so you know. He hates you for having me.” Jett said.
“Good. I’m glad. If you’re hated by bad people then you must doing something right in life. Anyway, this guy, and his friends, are assholes. Simple as that. I don’t care why, or how they got that way. Not our problem. They can figure that out for themselves. But, they are assholes.”
“He’s racist dad,” Jett said.
“Then he’s a racist asshole. Anyway, we don’t give people like that more time or attention then we think they deserve. If my goal is to get from point A to point B, I’m not gonna let some racist asshole distract me from my goal. My goals are a lot more important than something some racist asshole has to say. So, I’m going to stay focused on my goal. Fuck that racist asshole.”
“Dad! Language!” Jett said, “It’s weird hearing you say that.”
“Well, you’re going to say it next. And you’re going to mean it, young lady. Say. Say ‘fuck those racist assholes.’”
“Dad, I don’t wanna..”
“SAY IT! I’ll give you a pass on the profanity, so you get the big picture.”
“Ok f-fuck those racist assholes.”
“Say it like you mean it.”
“Fuck those racist assholes.”
Ashley interjected, “are you sure you should be encouraging the use of those words?”
Jett’s dad ignored her and said, “Say it again. With attitude.”
“Fuck those racist assholes.”
“Hold your head up when you say it. Stand up straight. Don’t look so defeated.”
Jett straightened up her posture and said, with more emotion, “Fuck those racist assholes!”
“Good. Now you have some attitude. You need that to deal with bullies. They respond to fear and anxiety. Give them confidence and attitude. They won’t know how to react.”
Ashley interjected again, “What if they react by getting violent. What if he decides he is going to put his hands on her?”
“If a boy puts his hands on you without your permission, you have MY permission to hit him in the mouth as hard as you can. I don’t want you to start a fight, but you have every right to defend yourself and to enforce your own personal boundaries.”
Ashley interjected again, “Are you sure?”
Jett’s dad responded by saying, “She’s my kid. She’ll know how to throw a punch. Trust me.” To Jett he said, “Don’t walk around looking scared. Stand up straight, keep your head up, look people in the eyes when you talk to em, say what you mean and mean what you say. Confidence and attitude. Once you decide you need to defend yourself from some boy trying to hurt you, then don’t second guess yourself. Commit to it and follow through.”
“How do I throw a punch? I don’t think that kind of knowledge gets genetically transmitted,” Jett said.
“Ok. Start with your feet. You need a solid foundation. Now, make a fist, and when you punch, know exactly where you’re going and get there by the shortest possible route. Don’t throw some round house punch if he’s standing right in front of you.” Jett’s dad then worked with her on throwing a punch the right way, how to put all of her force behind it. This was basic self defense stuff that he’d learned as a kid too. “Now, understand, that this is the last resort thing you do when someone is trying to hurt you or about to try to hurt you. You will not start a fight. You will only defend yourself. Understood?”
“Understood,” Jett said.
Jett and her dad worked on throwing punches, with Jett punching him in the hand. As her form improved and she punched harder, her dad reminded her of what she needed to think to herself when she comes across these guys.
“Dad,” she said, between punches, “can’t you just go to school and talk to the principle?”
“I can, and I probably will if this continues. But it won’t help. That won’t stop them. The principle will make some excuse and talk in platitudes and those assholes will just wait until no one is looking to do something. Sooner or later you’re going to have to figure out how to deal with them.”
Jett rolled her eyes at her dad and kept punching.
“Now, here’s the deal. I don’t want you to hit anyone. I don’t even want to talk to those kids. Just say our little catch phrase to yourself, in your mind and keep on going to point B. Ignore those racist assholes. Ok?”
“I’ll try,” Jett said.
“NO. Do or do not.. There is no try.” Jett’s dad said in his best Yoda voice.
“Ughhh!” Jett said, and then laughed.
Later that night, when Jett was in her room with her tablet, she looked up karate punches. Sure enough, she found something similar to what her dad taught her. She also learned a combination of punching in the face, kneeing in the crotch, and using the person’s momentum to get him to the ground. Jett acted out the moves quietly in her room. She didn’t want to have to do anything, but if she did have to, she decided that she was going to be ready.
Three of these stories take place in the same “universe.” The Fuse, The Fuse pt 2 (The Escape) and the excerpt from Jett are all part of the same story. The Fuse is the beginning of the story (for now) where a man, the hardboiled burnout of a private eye who keeps getting burnetbecause he can’t seem to help himself from doing the right thing to help people; meets the woman who is the troubled dancer with a heart of gold who wants to leave town and start over. She saw something that she believes puts her in danger so she saves up her money, finds our protagonist, and approaches him at the bar. The vibe of the story is film noir. In The Fuse pt 2, (The Escape) the protagonist tells the story about how he managed to swindle Vinnie out of some money and get the girl out of town. Our protagonist exists in a tangled world of extortion and alliances and he has been using both to work all the characters in town against each other. It’s how he survives. He and “the boss” have an understanding because, at some point in the past, he discovered information about the boss that makes him vulnerable. So he uses this as leverage to keep himself safe. He has a backup plan if something happens to him so the boss looks out for him. At the same time, he has an arrangement with the local DA of the same sort. He knows enough about everyone to be left alone to do his thing. Vinnie is a brash, obnoxious gangster wannabe; another throwback to the past. While the boss is actually trying to transition the mafia he inherited into a legitimate business empire, Vinnie is still enamored with the old ways.
Jett (from the excerpt from Jett) is actually the daughter of the protagonist and the woman he helps to escape. The story of Jett includes a perspective shift. The story is no longer told in first person by the protagonist because the story is now about Jett, not our intrepid and resourceful private eye. Jett’s story starts 14 years after the encounter in The Fuse. Jett is an odd, shy, resourceful girl who is equal parts her mom and dad. Her story is one of finding her identity in the same universe that her parents occupied over a decade before. In the excerpt from her story, she finally confronts the bully who has been tormenting her since she started her school.
The arc of these stories is to continue the story of the hardboiled, film noir private eye into the future through his child, Jett, who is destined to become more of a comic book style heroine, but who still lives with the ethos and values that were taught to her by her dad. She is his legacy, but she is the future. Later, in the story, she’ll refer to putting herself in peril to help people who can’t help themselves as “the family business.”
I’m still writing and telling this story so if you read this and have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box and I’ll gladly answer them to the best of my ability.
Enjoy and there is more to come.
It was a sordid affair and, like these things usually go, you know the deal. I could say something sexy and cool here but it won’t matter because the story always ends up the same: with me sitting in some joint somewhere having a drink and thinking about the last woman that I damn near got myself killed over. ..again. So here I was, sitting in this bar having a drink when this knockout of a dame walked in, looking for me. It’s not hard to tell a woman in trouble, because she’ll be looking for me to get her out of it. That’s how I make my living. She took the seat next to me and after getting a light for her cigarette she started telling me her story. Did I mention she was beautiful? No. Well, that’s because I’m trying to forget how beautiful she was. Not in a pristine, diva kind of way though. She was beautiful in that disheveled, stressed out and desperate kind of way. You could tell she’d clean up well if she had the chance. I knew right then that it was up to me to make sure she got the chance.
As we talked this guy walked in. Angry, asking the bartender a lot of questions about this girl he was looking for. I sent her out the back door by the alley with instructions to get a room at the Days Out Motel downtown. The clerk was a friend of mine and he had a habit of not running his mouth. The guy that walked in, well, his name was Vinnie, and he said he was looking for her because he was her boss. So, I punched Vinnie in the mouth.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in this business, it’s that you never punch a guy named Vinnie in the mouth.
But she needed the distraction to get out the back door unnoticed, so I did what I needed to do. Well, to be honest, I didn’t need to punch Vinnie in the mouth, but he probably needed to get punched to get punched in the mouth.
I woke up at the docks with Vinnie and this guy named Joey. Joey had an ugly face and an attitude to match. He wasn’t the brightest guy, but he was good at his job; which is to intimidate guys like me. They didn’t mention the girl, but said that the boss, he had a job for me, pays very well, no questions asked. I asked about the woman, then I punched Vinnie in the mouth again. I’m a slow learner.
I took the job. Not for the money, but for the woman; and because that was probably the only way I was gonna be leaving the docks wearing my own shoes, if you know what I mean. You see, back when we were at the bar, the woman told me that she wanted to leave her employment, but she’d seen some things that she wished she hadn’t and her boss wanted to have a. . let’s just call it an impromptu employment evaluation over it. She worked as a dancer in one of the clubs and wanted out anyway. Now may be the only chance she would have to act on it. Her boss was Vinnie and he worked for the local business, so she had a good reason, and said she’d pay cash for my help. She said that word on the street was that I was discreet and knew how to handle complicated situations like this; and that I didn’t have a big mouth. Funny thing is, that I often complicate situations like this instead of handling them. People get confused on the street. But I knew that Vinnie was on thin ice with the boss, and one more screw up and he would be added to the “unemployment roll.” He’s been unstable, getting personal, drawing too much attention to himself. So, when we saw Vinnie walk into the bar and question the bartender about her whereabouts, I had an idea. I made it personal this time.
All they wanted me to do was deliver an envelope to a local bails bondsman at 2:00am. This guy would be working the desk. Give him the envelope and tell him that Vinnie sends his regards. Then meet Joey and Vinnie at a bar on the corner of North and 25th. Have a few drinks, collect the money, and we’d go our separate ways. The woman was at a motel two blocks away and had instructions to stay put until she was clear to leave town. It wasn’t easy, but I called in a few favors and was able to procure a rental car for he; she’d drive two hours out of town to an airport in a larger city, where I’d have plane tickets to somewhere elseville waiting for her. I had a plan to get Vinnie to pay my fee and fund her trip, so she would have some cash to help her start over. Sounds simple, easy. But, that’s not how things worked out.
I drove around for a while and then went straight to the bar. Vinnie and Joey were there, as planned, but there was a third person sitting at the table with them. They were in a corner, away from everyone else, and no one went near their table. It was one of Vinnie’s joints so they had the home field advantage. When I got to the table, Joey motioned for me to sit down, across from he and Vinnie, next to their guest. That’s when I realized that it was the woman that was supposed to be at the motel room waiting for me. She sat there smoking a cigarette and avoiding eye contact. Vinnie looked at her and then me, and then said, “I would introduce you two but you’ve already met. At the bar, when she offered to pay you to help her leave town. I’m disappointed, and frankly I’m kind of impressed, that you had the balls to take the job. One of the guys caught her slipping out the back of the bar. You think I wouldn’t send a guy out back, or to that shithole motel you always use to hide people? Just how stupid do you think I am?”
I didn’t even answer that question. Instead, I carefully weighed my options. I decided to be straight forward about it. “You know guys like me Vinnie; I work for a living. I offer a service and if you got the cash I don’t discriminate and I don’t ask questions. I have to pay bills just like everyone else.”
Vinnie eyed me carefully, then asked slowly and clearly, “Then what was that bullshit about punching me in the mouth, twice? Was that part of the job?”
“No Vinnie, I just don’t like your face. That’s all.” I meant it as a joke, on the surface, but I wasn’t lying. Joey laughed and then choked it up when Vinnie looked at him.
“So, you’re gonna be a smart ass. Suppose I take you back to the docks right now, one-way trip, for that stunt?”
“No Vinnie, I don’t think you want to do that, not with what just went down at the job you sent me on.”
“What the fuck you talking about? You delivered the package, didn’t you?”
“Yea. I did exactly what you said, but on the way out the guy working the desk said that he had no idea what this was about, that he was filling in for someone else who had an accident, was in the hospital. He’s the guy with the package now.”
Vinnie’s eyes widened. Another screw up, plus the scene at the bar earlier when I punched him in the mouth. The boss isn’t going to like this. “Why didn’t you take the package back?” he asked angrily.
“Because you just said to give it to the guy at the desk. You didn’t tell me who it was I was giving it to. You have to think about things like this Vinnie.” I said.
“So this is my fault,” Vinnie said, his voice rising, drawing attention to himself, “is that what you’re gonna tell the boss? That I didn’t tell you who to give it to? “
“You know the score Vinnie. One more screw up and you’re done. Right now, you need me, because I know who has the package. If the package gets in the wrong hands, you’re done. I can get it back. But I’m not going to do that unless you make a deal.”
“What if I just off you right now? What does any of this matter to you then?”
“You’re not that stupid Vinnie, ” I said, ” because then you don’t get the package back and it doesn’t get to where it’s supposed to go. We’re both dead then. Is that how you want to play it? You need me. “
Vinnie looked at me for a long time. Then he said, “What do you want?”
“I’ll keep it simple. The package, it’s a payoff to someone, I know that. The guy who normally works the overnight shift, it’s his night job, he’s also a cop, so it’s not hard to figure out who you’re paying and what you’re paying for. No one wants that to get out. But you’re a known player Vinnie, so a package containing cash from Vinnie is gonna be a big deal. So, I go back to the kid and tell the kid who got the package that I’m a courier and I made a mistake, get the package back, no big deal. Your face is left out of it and you can get the package to your guy whenever you can. What I want in return is double the fee you promised plus, the girl gets out of town with no problems. If anything doesn’t happen to me, I check in with my lawyer friend who is waiting to hear if everything went down okay. If she doesn’t hear from me, then she goes to the Department of Justice and talks to Uncle Rico about everything. You go down, your friend goes down. Not sure if you want to confront the boss on this one, you’d have better luck with the feds.”
“So I just have to trust you to keep your word on this?”
“As you know, me and your boss have an understanding so you have my word no one goes down if you play along. If not, he’ll throw you under the bus, not me. I don’t want that to happen, so I’m trying to work it out. So yea, you have to trust me.”
“Fuck,” Vinnie said, and nothing else.
“You’re sloppy Vinnie, and you make everything personal. That’s why I punched you in the mouth. To make a scene that would get back to the boss. He wants you to be a good soldier but you keep finding trouble. Let the woman go, give me the money, and it all goes away. Decline my offer and you don’t get the package back. It gets to the boss with your name attached to it. Do something to me and my person tells the whole story. What’s it gonna be Vinnie?”
“What about her? There’s a reason I can’t just let her go,” Vinnie said.
“Give it up Vinnie. You’re gonna have to let her go for this to go down right. Who is she gonna tell? Who’s gonna believe her anyway? She’s gonna go away and start her life over and you’ll never have to see her again. I get my fee and you get your package back. Everyone wins. You in?”
Vinnie knew that he was cornered. Word was that the boss was trying to avoid complications so he needed to keep a low profile and avoid unnecessary attention. He already knew that Vinnie got into a fight at a bar, which is exactly the kind of thing he was supposed to avoid. He needed to get the money to his guy but he couldn’t be seen with him, which is why they asked me to do the job. But now someone else has the money, at least as far as Vinnie knew. The truth was, I still had the money. I didn’t deliver it. My plan was to wait and then bring Vinnie the package with the money as if I got it back from the kid at the bail bondsman’s office. Vinnie’s guy was there, I just didn’t bring it to him. Vinnie and the guy don’t talk, so he would never know what happened. All he knew was that he never got the money, so no matter how this plays out, Vinnie is gonna be in trouble with the boss when he shows up with the money instead of his guy having the money. Vinnie’s girl gets out of town with a new identity while Vinnie is tied up dealing with the boss.
We left the bar and this time I put her up in a nice hotel, one of those 3-star jobs. I used the money from Vinnie to purchase a plane ticket and gave her the name of the guy who would help her go away to never be found again. We spent a few nights together in the hotel, either drinking at the bar or playing hide the goods in the room. Yea, I fell for her and I fell hard. But she had to go. Vinnie wasn’t going to control his impulses forever and she needed to start over, but it was good while it lasted. So good. I don’t know why, but something told me that I hadn’t heard the last from her yet. We had one last romp, said our goodbyes, and she left town while I went back to that joint on the south side of town, ordered a drink, and tried not to think about what was going to happen next. I figured Vinnie won’t be available to cause any more problems and Joey is too stupid to understand what just went down.
I’m a sucker for a woman with a story…
Jett collected her books and started her walk to class. As she walked away from her locker, alone as usual, the tall, muscular boy walked by and bumped her, knocking her books from her hands, as he went by, laughing and talking to the attractive young blond girl who was hanging on his every word. “Asshole,” muttered Jett as he walked by laughing at her.
The boy stopped, turned around, and said, “What did you just say you little bitch?”
“Asshole. I said Asshole, referring to you. Because you’re an asshole,” Jett said back. Her heart pounded in her chest and she took a deep breath as she waited for him to respond.
“Fuck off whore,” the boy said as he turned around to walk away.
“No. . .You fuck off. . .whore,” Jett said loudly to his back. It got quiet in the hallway as the other kids stopped to watched, shocked.
“What did you just say, bitch?” the boy said as he turned and walked back towards Jett.
“I’m sorry. . You’re deaf and stupid. My mistake. First I called you an asshole and then I told YOU to fuck off. And I called you a whore. Because it applies to you a lot more than to me, logically. Any questions?”
“I don’t think you know what you’re saying. I think you owe me an apology. Or maybe I just kick your ass. And I don’t care if you’re a girl. No one, especially a little bitch like you, talks to me like that. No one. Got it, half breed?” Half breed was what they often called her in an attempt to embarrass her. She preferred the term Biracial, but she wasn’t going to let it get to her today.
“I’m not scared of you,” Jett said, matter of factly.
“I’m not scared of you. All these kids here, they’re scared of you. Me, I’m not. You don’t scare me. You’re stupid and weak.”
“I suppose you can back that up. Maybe you should be.”
“Because I’m gonnna kick your ass if you don’t shut up.”
“Kick my ass? You’ve never kicked an ass in your life. I heard about the game last weekend.”
“The game, what?”
“The game. You’re trying to start a fight with me, but didn’t you guys get your ass kicked enough at the game already?” She asked, smiling as she asked it. She was feeling good now. He was on the defensive. She had him right where she wanted him.
“Look babe,” another boy said, walking up beside her, “don’t start this. He’ll fight you, and it’ll be bad for you if he does. Just, back off. Walk away and we’ll just call it even.”
Jett ignored the interloper, looking directly at the first boy, “I’m not scared of you. You stupid and weak. You’re all talk. You’re nothing to be scared of.”
The other boy just stood there, confused. First off, no kid talked to him like that; second, this was a girl talking to him like this. He had to do something.
“Just. . shut the fuck up,” was all he could muster.
“I’m not scared of you. Or your friends. And I’m tired of you messing with me.”
“Shut up!” He said louder.
“I’m not scared of you,” she said calmly, smiling now.
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“I’m not scared of you.”
With that the boy walked towards her, chest out, face red and got in her space, doing his best to intimidate the girl. “SHUT UP OR GET YOUR ASS KICKED!” he said.
She calmly stared him down and said, quietly, “I’m not scared of you.”
With that the boy put his hand on her chest and started to push her. She stood her ground and leaned forward, with her legs set. “Get your hands off of me now.”
“SHUT UP” the boy said.
“If you don’t get your hands off of me by the time I count to three. . “
“OR what?” the boy challenged her.
“One. .” and then the girl punched him hard in the mouth, putting all of her weight and momentum into it. Before he could react, she kicked him hard in the crotch. The boy lurched forward in pain. She grabbed his shirt and, with force, used his momentum to sling him to the ground. When he hit the ground the other boy jumped in, to defend his friend. She turned and punched him in the mouth too. He fell backwards more in shock than from the force of the punch and landed against the lockers. A random locker door swung open and hit him in the face as he stood there, stunned.
The girl then jumped on the boy on the ground, pinning him to the ground and hit him in the face and head over and over as all the other kids looked on in shock. , “Listen up fuckers,” she said to the friends of the boy that had gathered around to see the small girl beat up their friend, “the next time one of you fuckers thinks about fucking with me, remember what I did to your little bitch friend’s face here. And that goes for fucking with any of the kids in this school that you’ve been fucking with fucking fuckers.”
She then calmly got up as school security arrived, shocked at what they were seeing. “Did you do this?” One of the security guys said to her. “He started it,” Jett said back, as they escorted her to the principal’s office.