by Diane Dorce, Copyright 2007 Bloggers Delight Vol 1

It was Saturday night in probably one of the last places I wanted to be. In fact I could think of three or four different locations and better company than Smoke’s Bar and Grill. But I was trying to stop a murder and next to Superman, Smoke was the only man I knew who could stop a bullet.

“Jack okay with you?” Smoke hollered from the bar.

“Yeah,” I said, and watched while he poured two full-to-the rim shots of Jack Daniels. My mouth watered at the sight. Although I was not normally a drinker, on a day like today, I needed it more than I needed a woman or food (which was usually what I needed just about everyday, but not today). Today started off rocky at best and gradually descended into premature hell and with the gatekeeper by my side, I was sure I’d be meeting up with Satan any moment. “Hey, you alright?” I asked him, but I don’t know why; the boy hadn’t said two words to me since I picked him up at Georgia Correctional Institute—which, to me, sounded like a big, fancy name for jail.

“It stinks in here.”

Damn, he could talk…but he was right. That mixture of smoked meat, liquor and some other gaseous substance I couldn’t quite distinguish--but smelled a lot like funk--wasn’t exactly the kind of thing you wanted to breathe in on the regular.

“It will pass.” That’s the one thing I knew for sure; sit here long enough and you become used to it.

Smoke dragged himself from around the bar, pulling on his wood leg, like he had bricks tied to it. It didn’t seem like that long ago Smoke was jumping five foot fences in one sweeping motion, peg leg and all. Old Father Time had other plans though. Easily pushing sixty, Smoke moved like a man twenty years older--tired and at the end of his rope. After all these years, he still looked the same, wore the same part down the middle of his head like back in the day and dyed it twice a month so he wouldn’t go entirely white. I always thought it was foolish for a man to dye his hair, but I probably wouldn’t recognize Smoke without that black hair dye, let alone the part.

Smoke poured drinks, grilled ribs and fried fish from five to midnight on Saturday and every other Sunday. He had a diverse clientele consisting of pimps, players, drug dealers, prostitutes, politicians and cops (but not all on the same night). Smoke’s place was just above an average shack with four wobbly tables, twelve chairs, a jukebox and one bar stool that Bebe, Smoke’s step-sister, occupied much of the time. What the place lacked in d├ęcor, it made up in history and some of the best times I had ever experienced. Let Smoke tell it, some of the baddest dudes that ever ran the streets of Atlanta damn near lived in Smoke's. It was where we hung out, done deals-- even beat a few heads if need be. Bottom line, the joint was a staple around these parts, as much as Ebenezer Baptist Church, Auburn Avenue and the Martin Luther King Center. Just like the others, it had served its purpose over time.

Smoke’s eyes were still fierce and capable of a champion stare-down that would rival Mike Tyson’s. He never took his eyes off the boy. “You got a name?” he asked, placing the two shot glasses on the table and taking a seat across from me and beside the boy.

The boy seemed annoyed, like he wasn’t meant to answer to anyone, shrugging his shoulders and shifting in his seat. He struck that obvious bad boy pose with his head leaning to the side and his arms folded in front of him, then barked out his name “Mad dog,” he said.

Smoke downed his shot, coughed a little, and then shook his head. “That’s a muthafucking shame. Someone named this boy some shit like “Mad dog!” He looked over at me. “What you think, Willie?”

I could feel the hairs raise up on the back of my neck. This wasn’t going exactly as I planned--in fact, worse. I spoke up, trying to ease the tension, although I didn’t know what good it would do. “Boy’s name is Tyrell. I seen it on his release papers.” It was my job to get him and bring him here. I knew more about him than I wanted to know. I knew all about his arrest, how he botched up a simple robbery, and got caught holding the goodies. He grew up poor and--most times--on the street. His mama was a crackhead and his daddy ran off and left before the semen dried. Yeah, I knew more about Tyrell then he knew about himself, because…he was just a mirror image of me.

Tyrell sat with his head between his legs, not bothering to address either of us. I guess he didn’t really know what to say.

“Willie, go’on around the bar and grab us the bottle. Looks like it’s gonna be a long night.”

“The bottle” Smoke referred to was empty but resting comfortably on a shelf below the bar were rows and rows of liquor. Twenty or more so jam jars, filled with liquor and labeled specifically with its brand--Stolichnaya, Grey Goose, Hennessy, Martell and Remy to name a few. Smoke never carried the original bottles, always discarded them or simply didn't bring them into the establishment. This way, he had to deal with less break-ins and theft, and, with a little paper and lot of greasing hands, he operated without a liquor license because this really wasn't a bar. Well, it was our bar, and Monday through Sunday--sunup to sundown, we drank, sucked on rib tips, shot bones, and talked shit.

Bebe, Smoke's sister, sat in the corner nodding her head to an imaginary beat. She wore close to nothing, and the sight of her sagging breasts was enough to make you sick. She looked like life or some man had sucked the wind out of her, but, in reality, it was heroin that did her in. Bebe was in a world of her own--had been for many years. That song she was singing was her life playing over and over again. I felt sorry for her but didn’t let my eyes linger too long. I brought the bottle to the table and poured us two more drinks. Smoke downed his drink in one gulp. I sipped mine.

"So, Willie, what’s up? I thought you was still shakin’ them fools on Peachtree?"

"Naw man, I'm chillin’,” I said looking over at Tyrell, who looked down at the floor to keep from looking at Bebe. "He looking for a gig, man. Thought you could hook him up with something."

Smoke eyed the young man sitting at the table, his head hanging between his legs. Willie could tell he wasn't pleased with what he saw. The boy couldn't be no older than fifteen, sixteen at most, skinny as a rail, hair going every which way, and his clothes were dirty and stained. Smoke shook his head, grunted, and then sucked at his teeth. Something he always did when he wasn't pleased. "Man what I’m gonna do with this rugrat?" He sucked his teeth again. "The boy is weak."

Tyrell jumped up from his seat, almost knocking it to the ground. "I ain't weak motherfucker!” he shouted in Smoke’s direction.