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An intimate and revealing exploration of kindred spirits forever linked through love and devotion, even as they travel through a maze of deceit and mischief. From the sandbox to the grave. That's the motto of the three partners for life: Johnny Ivey, Johnny Dobbs, and Larry Stith. Together, in the mean red light district of Atlanta, they are also known as the three amigos. One for all and all for one. Newly released from jail, Larry "Sparkle" Stith wants to lead a life free of crime and violence. But his dream of reform is cut short when he is reintroduced into the street life by his former friends: Vengeful adversaries are on a mission to take over his friends' prostitution, drugs, and gambling turfs, drawing him back into the life he was trying to escape. Sparkle's lover, Beverly Johnson, is now the city's police chief. She battles her own personal demons in search of a life of peace while secretly protecting her friends and her political career. With the backdrop of Atlanta, there's a labyrinth of trickery that the friends must travel in order to keep their territory, their sanity, and even their lives.
CHAPTER ONE Breaking the Chains
It was another humid day in the summer of 2006 in the rural woods of southern Georgia. The sun was finally starting to break through the daily density of fog at the Valdosta State Prison. The sounds of the stirring of the inmate population inside the life-choking, razor-wired fences found Sparkle awakening to the final day of his bit and hopefully the beginning of a new life in the outside world.
The irritating clanging of chimes over the PA system was really starting to irritate him. He rolled over and squeezed the hard plastic-covered pillow as tightly as he could over his head to block out the persistent noise. He tried squeezing his eyes tight but that didn’t work, either. Finally, he realized that more sleep was out of the question and sat up in the bed. It had been well over a year since he’d given up eating early in the morning. He had begun feeling nauseated and occasionally had thrown up after devouring that godforbidden slop. Getting to the chow hall certainly wasn’t a priority for him.
A sharp rapping on the door was followed by the voice of his chain gang running mate, Skeet, yelling at the top of his lungs. “Yo, Sparkle, get yo ass up, man!” This did away with whatever rest was left.
Sparkle fell back on the bed, turned over on his stomach and pulled the wool cover over his head, shouting in a grumbling tone, “What?”
Skeet rapped harder. “Hey, man, come on; get yo ass up, nigga. We got some thangs to kick around afore you raise up outta here.”
Sparkle, still in a sleepy haze, thought,Aw man, I’m getting outta this dungeon today. Man, let me get up outta this here rack.He had a big smile spread across his face. He peeked over his forearm and focused on the door’s frosty sheet of Plexiglas where Skeet was still yelling, “Come on, man, get up and splash some water on that ugly-ass mug and get the funk outta your mouth.” He was cheesing hard through the pane. Sparkle could only see his teeth and big bulbous nose. Even though he was looking directly at him, he continued rapping and yelling, “Come on, bitch, get yo ass up. It’s time for you to roll outta this dungeon.”
“Ugh,” Sparkle grunted and frowned from the nasty film of morning mouth coating his tongue. Smacking his lips, he sighed and yanked the cover off his head and glanced menacingly at the door.
He sat up and rubbed the crusty sleep out of the corner of his eyes with the palms of his hands. Breaking out into a big smile, he began rubbing his knees and reached under the plastic mattress for his crumbled pack of Kools. After taking his time lighting up, he took an extra long toke and started waving Skeet away from the door. “Yeah, yeah, I’m up, man. Why dontcha go get that fat butt boy of yours up.” He stretched and yawned. “I’ll be with ya’ll in a few.”
Skeet rapped his gnarled knuckles on the pane one last time. “About time, nigga; I’ll be out at the basketball court. And don’t have me out there all morning waiting on your jive ass, either.” He gave him a staunch salute before disappearing.
“Yeah, yeah.” Sparkle pressed his fist to his mouth and stifled a yawn. He stood to stretch his five-foot-ten, coffee-brown frame, twisted the kinks out of his neck and staggered to the wash basin to handle his hygiene.
With Skeet’s footsteps fading, his thoughts flowed to the image of a sweet, young filly hunching up under him, giving up husky sighs and pussy aroma from his hard grinding fuck. He smiled at his dull image in the metal mirror and splashed cold water on his face. He brushed his teeth, picked out his mini fro and started putting on his prison whites for the last time.
Several minutes later, he checked the creases in his pants as he exited his room. He strolled down the catwalk toward the winding stairs. As he reached the steps he heard an all-too-familiar voice grumbling in a country drawl.
He immediately felt that old tingling of hatred run up and down his spine. He knew it wouldn’t do any good to ignore it, so he slowly angled his head sideways to acknowledge the voice.
Old “Chew Tobacco” Jones was grinning at him, displaying a row of brown, crooked teeth. The big burly country hick, his distinctively foul body odor disturbing the air, placed a swollen hand on the railing. He tapped his ever-present nightstick along the wall as he approached in a rolling gait.
In a skunky wisp of air, he said, “Damn, boy, you trying to ignore me or sumthang?” He stepped a few feet closer before continuing with a nasty sneer. “You best to keep yaself oudda trouble now.”
Sparkle pinched his nose and spoke, holding his breath between clenched teeth. “What’s up, Stank Breath Chew Tobacco?”
The CO’s face turned beet red as he frowned and growled, “Whaddafuck you say, nigga boy?”
Sparkle pinned him with cold-killer eyes and blasted his funky ass. “Cracker-ass, redneck bitch, who gave your dumb hillbilly ass permission to speak to me?” He paused and rubbed his nose again, letting it sink in. “Get the fuck outta my face.” He turned away to stifle the laugh that was boiling up from his gut. A look of total shock spread across Jones’s face.
A red-faced, neck-throbbing Jones grabbed his throat as if he were about to choke on his wad. His neck got puffy red as he opened his mouth to say something but nothing came out. He shifted his head back and forth, checking to see if anybody was watching this boy belittling him. Then he gritted, showing all of his tobacco-stained brownish teeth. He pulled back his nightstick to strike before Sparkle leaned in closer to him and hissed, “Yeah, stanky muthafucka, do it and let’s go see the magistrate.”
The hillbilly opened his mouth again to speak but Sparkle cut him off. “Yeah, bastard, I said it. I’m a free man today and if you hit me with that damn thing, your ass is gonna do some time. Yep, some muthafuckin’ time in here with these killa niggas that you been fucking over all these years.”
With the stick frozen in midair, he squinted his hate-filled eyes, heaved and lowered the stick. “You black bastard, you better hope that your sorry ass don’t ever come back this here way again. Your ass will be mine.”
“Bitch-ass cracker, your funky ass better pray that I never see your ugly mug on the other side of these fences.” Sparkle’s deadly look sent a shiver down the CO’s spine. He backed away with trembling lips.
Sparkle cocked his head to the side and scratched his chin, and then took a deep breath to keep from laughing. Turning abruptly away he started walking down the stairs. He could feel the fire snorting out of Jones’s nose, along with the hate darting from his eyes, burning a hole in his back.
He didn’t give a fuck how Jones felt with all the fucked-up shit he used to do. Brushing the confrontation out of his mind, Sparkle continued out the door. Immediately, he spotted his boy Skeet and his kid Lil’ Jack in an animated conversation. They were seated on a bench beside the basketball court. As he strolled toward them, they broke out in wide smiles.
Skeet nodded toward the sidewalk and the pair walked up ahead of him. Sparkle got dap and backslaps from dudes congratulating him for surviving his bit and wishing him well on his return to the bricks. He eventually passed all of the well-wishers and walked between Skeet and Lil’ Jack, placing an arm around each of their shoulders.
Lil’ Jack smiled up at him and said in a squeaky voice, “Damn, big bro, you finally gonna get the chance to be a hood star again, huh?”
Sparkle blinked several times as he returned the smile. He’d always been amazed at how much Jack smiled like a girl. Hell, he was shaped like one, too. He used to joke with him all the time about him being a mistake of nature. For a moment Sparkle thought of what a helluva pimp Jack would make on the ho stroll on Auburn Avenue. He’d personally pumped enough game into his head to pull it off, too. A lot of dudes around the joint didn’t realize how coldhearted the little fella was.
Because of his friendship with Skeet, they had become really close. Even though Jack was a near replica of the sexy diva Toni Braxton, he’d always treated him human without any of the homosexual bullshit involved. Sparkle figured he really appreciated it; he never acted feminine when they were alone. Often Skeet had him boy-sitting whenever he was at work in the gym or out hustling drugs and parlaying tickets.
He rubbed Jack’s curly head. “Little bro, I’m going out there to do the straight-and-narrow thing.” He winked.
“That’s good man; that’s good.” Jack nodded.
When they got halfway down the long curved sidewalk, Jack spotted one of his sissy friends. He patted Sparkle daintily on the shoulder. “Hey, I know that ya’ll two probably got some things ya’ll wanna kick around before you leave. I’m going to holla at Miss Queenie over yonder, so take care of yourself, handsome.” He twisted his little hips in the direction of his partner.
When they got out of earshot of the throng of niggas hanging out in front of the mess hall, Skeet nudged him in the side. “Ya know dat thangs are gonna be rough out der, my nigga; ya sure you gonna be able to handle that for me?”
Sparkle could tell that Skeet had doubts about him coming through with the drugs they had discussed over the past few months. “Homefolks, all you got to do is let me know that you done sent that package request to your sister and I’ll be on that thang right away.” He put his arm around his shoulder. “Make sure that you keep these niggas outcha business, so we both can get paid.”
Skeet cocked his head to the side with his sneaky smile. “Yeah, man, we got this plan down tight and I sho nuff gotta keep these nosey-ass snitches outta my shit.” He paused to scratch behind his ear. “Man, I hate to make you feel like I’m doubting you and shit. But you know how damn near everybody who gets out be claiming dey gonna do des and gonna do dat. And folk never hear nothing from them; go straight ghost on a nigga.”
Sparkle stopped about ten yards from the entrance to the main control office and pulled him by the wrist. He stared straight into his eyes. “Yo, peeps, you remember that day when you cracked that fool upside the head? He was set to steal on me about that slum-ass reefer he was trying to gorilla down my throat?”
Skeet lowered his head and started massaging the bridge of his nose, listening intently.
“Well, baby boy, that alone is enough to keep my mind on the struggles you gotta go through in this crazy house. So you can count on me, dog. Word is bond, like it’s always been with us.”
“Yeah, I feel you, man.” He continued to look down in shame for doubting his main man.
The captain who ran the control room came out the door. “Say, man, they been hollering for you on the walkie-talkies for about a half-hour now. What’s up, you ain’t ready to go home or something?”
“Hell yeah, I’m on my way now, Captain.” He turned away from him and embraced his buddy one more time. “My nig, I gotcha. Have your sister holla at a nigga when she get the paperwork,” Sparkle whispered.
Skeet grinned like a black Cheshire cat. “It’s on the way as we speak. Hell, that there’s a wrap; make sure you take care of yourself out there.”
“Shit, dog, that’s automatic. You stay strong up in this hellhole.”
“No choice, partner; no choice.”
Sparkle rubbed his chin as he squinted at his boy and then looked around the compound for the last time. “Man, I sho’ ain’t gonna miss this place here.”
“Yeah, man, I feel you on that there.” Skeet nodded, following his gaze.
Sparkle lifted his chin and gave Skeet one more brotherly hug. He headed into the control center, toward freedom.
A couple of hundred miles to the north, an individual was tossing and turning in their sleep, struggling with the constant nightmare that punished and punished, year after year.
The hot balmy breeze did little to stop the sweat from stinging the child’s eyes. The heat was unbearable. The countless number of mosquitoes nibbling on little arms, legs and neck couldn’t be swatted away, no matter how often and hard they swung. They kept biting and biting, growing bigger and bigger as the child’s blood flooded its stinger mouth, like a hypodermic needle pumping a junkie’s vein. The child got woozier as its life flow oozed down its arms.
The foggy faces of lust-crazed men poofed into view and leaned closer to the terror-filled eyes, which quickly began fading in and out of focus. Ever so close, yet out of reach. A white one with stubby hairs rubbing harshly against the child’s burning skin, followed by a black one that ogled as slobber ran out of the corners of his mouth. His head angled from side to side like a lunatic; a brown one, then a yellow blurring in and out of vision.
The faces continued to swirl madly around as the mosquitoes got bigger, jaws snapping and gnawing on the child’s ever swelling arms. Suddenly all the different colored backs appeared altogether in a hideous mass, sweating and stinking as they came into focus, going up and down, followed by a blood-curdling scream.
The individual’s eyes shot open, a body consuming fear was causing the air to come in rapid gasps, hands rubbing vigorously all over the body that was drenched in flowing sweat, desperately trying to wipe away the icky feeling of total despair. He sat up in the unfamiliar surroundings, wondering how he had gotten there, brushing away oily hair that was plastered to the sticky forehead, before burying his head into his hands, scared to death as to why this kept happening. Tears from decades of suffering rolled down swollen cheeks, puffed with pain, wondering if the nightmares would ever stop; nightmares that were constantly increasing in frequency and intensity. Damn, something had to be done to make them stop. There was only one way to make them go away. And it would definitely come to pass. Please come to pass before insanity took over.