Dreyton: Chapter 4: The Dechter Funeral (Excerpt)
These were difficult times for John Harris. Yesterday, he buried two of his own, and today, accompanied by a crowd of mourners, he was doing the same to his closest friend. As much as he wanted to understand it all, he did not. He simply found himself left with an agonizing question: why? Why did it happen this way?
Some, of course, would have said that such an end was the price one paid for this way of life. And even that sentiment was echoed in the words of the minister. “There is a lesson to be learned here,” the elderly man preached, boldly, as if issuing an edict to many gathered at this gravesite. “The life and death of Larry Dechter stand as one of The Lords testaments to us—one of those examples that cannot be ignored. In fact, we have to understand the nightmare of this lifestyle for what it is, and we have to fear it.”
Unfortunately, even that explanation was not enough, because it proffered no solace to the grief-stricken gangsta. Instead, John pried deeper within himself, wrangling with every torturous thought, while searching for something substantive. And this time, he was shocked by the answer that he found: this happened, he reckoned, because he failed to be a leader. While he did not admit it openly, days ago, he realized that he had seen this coming—first, in the moment when Larry begged for vengeance, then again when he stood before his other angry roughnecks. He knew then that they were not ready, and he could have easily stood alone against their rage and their desire to retaliate. But he did nothing of the sort. He succumbed to the bloodlust, abdicating his responsibility for the lives of these men, and now three more of his finest were dead because of it.
That was not John’s only problem. As an added consequence of the botched assassination on McFarlane Avenue, his illicit enterprise was enduring a painful beating. Customers along the westbank had stayed away, over the past four days, convinced by rumors that a war was imminent, and fearful of being the next person caught in the crossfire. As a result, product was just not moving, and revenues declined by an unconscionable forty percent or more. Making matters worse, of course, were the projections that the worst was yet to come for his operation. As he watched his inventory pile up, and streets and neighborhoods get too hot to work, John knew that he would have been lucky to walk away with the Sean John on his back, if he was lucky enough to walk away, at all.
Everything seemed a bit overwhelming, at this point, but John Harris was determined not to let any of it get to him. He told himself that, in spite of his mistakes, he had to be strong, and with the moxie of that simple thought, he held his head up, purposefully holding back every visible sign of emotion. The situation had reached a critical juncture, and John knew that, if he had any hope of survival, this juncture was where he would have to make the difference. After all, his men were counting on him to know their next move, obviously now more than ever, but as far as he was concerned, there was not one—at least, not another violent one. The young gangsta figured that he had to devise a way to avoid an all-out confrontation with his rival, because he knew that they could not afford more losses. He wanted to come up with a new approach. There was just one question that he still could not answer: how was he going to do that without losing face?
“I don’t think Larry’s bitch is taking this well,” one of the roughnecks whispered to John.
The comment was so vulgar and inappropriate that, rather instinctively, John cringed. The gangsta bit his lower lip to avoid responding with an obvious scowl. This was not the place, he cautioned himself; he had to let the remark side. Instead, John took a long look at Ryanna, who was, in fact, not taking it well. Her beautiful face seemed to wear the pain like a shroud, while the tears flowed without abatement. She began to weep and cry out while others tried to comfort her, and for John, just the sight of that misery made the scope of this loss more unbearable.
“No, I guess she isn’t.” John was now fighting back his own urge to cry.
It was apparent that this hardened street-warrior, a young man known for his resilience, could not endure anymore. John lowered his head, taking a good look at his well-bandaged knuckles, and then he quietly excused himself from the gravesite. He made a slow descent down the hill to a gravel road at its foot. Once he reached it, the young gangsta exhaled heavily, as if he could have actually released his feelings so easily. Of course, he could not, and when he realized just how useless his actions were, he let the tears flow with an unusually wide grin.
“Aw, man”—John wiped away most of the tears—“I cannot let this beat me.”
When he finally pulled himself together, John surveyed the funeral procession and found Patrick Dutton standing near his own vehicle at the rear. Patrick had declined every opportunity to join the others on the hilltop, and John had figured that he understood why. While everyone was more or less uncomfortable with death, Patrick probably believed that he had a better reason to be than any other.
As his boss approached the last of the cars, Patrick took the liberty of speaking first. “How are you, man? Do you need anything?”
“Dutton,” John commanded, “fix your tie.”
And Patrick did just that, while repeating, “How are you?”
“I am good.”
“Is everything gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, Patrick, I imagine things will be,” John paused briefly to glance around the cemetery. “So why’d you stay down here? Can’t handle funerals much, huh?”
“Well, that’s actually not it,” Patrick replied. “You know like I do that Larry did not like me. There’s really no need to pretend that we were friends or anything.”
John shook his head, and mumbled, “No, I guess not.”
Patrick decided to change the subject. “So, man, what now? What do you plan to do?”
For a moment, John stood in wonderment. He literally did not know what to say, and that was a real problem, because, as a leader, he was supposed to know exactly what to say. “I am not sure yet,” he admitted, quite cautiously. Then, before he could gauge Patrick’s reaction, John noticed that mourners were beginning to leave the gravesite. “Great,” he uttered, while quietly calculating the prospects of affording the same degree of honesty to this rest of his roughnecks and dealers. “Patrick, I appreciate the fact you that you came here and all, but there’s no need for you to stay now.” John’s sights never left the group of men approaching him.
“No, Dutton.” John cut him off quickly. “I will give you a call later. Expect it.”
Patrick did not argue. Rather, he nodded obediently. “Then later it is, dude.” He proceeded to his Acura, but before climbing into the automobile, he turned back to his employer with a last comment. “By the way, John, you humanity is showing.”
The gangsta was afraid of that. In this business, there was no room for a man with overt sensibilities, and John knew that, right now, he could not afford to look weak. Hence, when his loyal soldiers got closer, he stood attentively, drawing upon what little strength he possessed, in order to maintain the appearance of a guy in absolute control.
“So what’s da plan, John?” The first question from one of his men hit John with blunt force.
“Yeah, how we gonna make them muthafuckas pay for this shit?” The next question was even more direct.
John was not totally prepared for them, but he tried, nevertheless, to manage the barrage with a modicum of skill and good sense. “Easy, boys,” the seasoned warrior urged his followers, even gesturing them to cool their tempers. “We haven’t even left the cemetery, and ya’ll are talking about revenge. Hell, Larry’s barely in the ground, and you want to go on killing, as if the thought of losing another brother is nothing.”
“There’s been a fuck-load of bodies piling up on our side, John. Our biz is grinding to a halt,” one roughneck pointed out. “Man, I don’t know about your change of heart, but we ain’t buying into it. We all know that something’s gotta be done—and quick.”
“I did not have any change of heart. In fact, that’s my fuckin’ best friend lying up there, in a pine box, on that hill, and I want Da Baron dead for it as much as you or anybody else.” John spoke with calm, but resolute, words, trying to assure all of his men. “Maybe, though—just maybe—this time retaliation isn’t the only way.”
“Then what do you want to do, John,” another asked.
John was quick with a reply. “We have to get him to the table.”
That answer ignited another barrage of questions. What the hell? How? Have you lost your mind? Clearly, the angry thugs were not sold on the ideal of diplomacy, but John did not let their cynicism dissuade him. He vowed to, never again, be pressed into another impractical assault on their rival’s leadership. And he was more than ready to defend his position.
“I have not lost anything, but I have found my sanity!” John vehemently contended. Even though his words were sharp, he was careful not to arouse the attention of those outside of this conversation. “I know we’re not ready to pull off the crap ya’ll are talking about! And I fuckin’ refuse to be responsible for the deaths of anymore of my own! Hell, I’m still paying for all of these!”
“Well, look, dawg. I ain’t questioning your judgment, but you don’t make a lot of sense. How are you hoping to get ‘em to the table?” asked one person. Just as that young thug’s tone restored order to the discussion, his question also brought to light a very valid point missed in the commotion.
How exactly was John Harris going to get Da Baron to agree to peace talks, when there was no clear incentive for the latter to do so? While that question resided at the heart of John’s scheme, the gangsta had no answer for it. But that, in no real way, meant John was going to flinch, or even give anyone the impression that he would concede to their lunacy. Rather, he admitted, surprisingly, “I don’t have a damned clue.”
The collective response was just as John anticipated. There was no flagrant jeering of his position, no third barrage of questioning; there was only…silence. The young leader had paved a clear path for scrutiny from his men, by conceding that he had no plan; yet, not one of his soldiers was willing to take him to task for it.
“I need some time to think of something,” John told them.
And for as much as they might have hated it, time was the one thing the angry thugs gave their employer. John was now free to devise a solution to his dilemma: how to convince Da Baron to talk? Unfortunately, he soon began to realize just how difficult his task was. Even after pondering for a minute or more, John found himself nowhere closer to a solution than when he began.
“I guess we all know there’s no incentive here. There’s nothing to force that son-of-a-bitch to the table.” John lowered his head, trying to hide any sign of frustration. “Da Baron’s got the upper hand and not a damned thing to lose, huh?”
“Then why don’t we create the incentive for him?” The more sensible roughneck made the suggestion, and immediately, he threw everyone’s attention. They all seemed to be hungry for more details, but he simply shrugged. “Look, you said they think that have the upper hand. Well, all I’m saying is we find a way to shake that up.”
That was it! They had to create a situation that compelled their rival to reconsider his position, something that would give the other side no alternative but to accept a dialogue. To John, it all seemed simple enough now; it had to work! But there was just one more question: what kind of situation could possibly do all these things?
John’s people were quick to begin a discussion about their options, but John, himself, became detached from the conversation. His attention, instead, to Ryanna Miller who stood with another group of mourners only a few yards away. He could see that the young woman was doing much better now. The pain and tears that had clouded her beautiful face were gone—replaced by a subtle, yet very visible, desire to overcome this tragedy. There was never any doubt that she would have done just that; after all, like most people who knew her, John figured, Ryanna was simply too strong to go on suffering. She had such a profound nature confidence, as well as a very real sense of determination, and that impressed someone like John Harris so much, in fact, that he felt draw to her without any trepidation.
“Ryanna,” he called out, as he approached her, inadvertently drawing the attention of other.
The sound of the gangsta’s voice paralyzed the young woman, resurrecting her last memories of Larry and that cryptic phone conversation. Even now, though she had no proof of it, she seriously believed it was that call that sent her estranged suitor to his death. For that reason, alone, Ryanna held John Harris entirely responsible, and though it took a great deal of courage to do so, she turned to confront the man.
With the empathy and sincerity of a gentleman, John spoke. “I know that all of this has to be hard for you and the baby. Over the last couple of days, I have been thinking of ya’ll a lot.”
The young mother was far from impressed. She simply remained silent.
“No one ever meant for anything like this to happen to him, to Larry,” John continued. “I cannot tell you how sorry I am.”
The silence went on.
“But I want you to know that we will make everything right. We have to, you know.” Then, in the wake of Ryanna’s truculence, John reached into his coat, retrieving a silver Moldavo timepiece. “This was his. I think he’d want you to have it.” John extended his hand to her, and said again, “I cannot tell you how sorry I am.”
That gesture only infuriated Ryanna. She lashed out, striking him with a much force as any female of her petite stature could muster. The blow was enough to leave John quite dazed and bleeding. But she did not end there; she lunged and began swinging her fists violently. She was determined to her the most vile creature in existence, and her attack did not stop until other mourners pulled her ways from him.
“How dare you!” Ryanna exploded, as she unsuccessfully tried to get to him again. “How dare you pretend that this isn’t your fault, that you’re not responsible for Larry being dead! Oh, you might not have pulled the trigger, you bastard, but you know that you did this to him! This is all your fault! People are dead because of you! Larry is dead because of you!” Her rage morphed into helpless wailing. “I hate you! I hate you! Oh God—why! Why!”
John never uttered a single word in his own defense. For that matter, he had never even tried to defend himself against her attack. Instead, he remained quiet and kept his head lowered, while Ryanna continued cry out. He could only watch as people tried to calm her down.
As the crowd of other mourners looked on, after a few minutes, Ryanna did regain her composure, and her supporters began to usher her to a waiting automobile. However, she was not done; she turned back and looked at John with immeasurable contempt. “I have never liked you, John. I have never liked you, at all,” she began. Her tone was noticeably much calmer, but the anger was now firmly etched into her expression. “People like you—all you do is hurt. All you do is destroy and cause pain. And it pleases you. You see no value in your own life, so you place no value on any someone else’s, and you won’t stop your destructive ways until you’ve turned the world into some kind of mess.” Ryanna paused for a moment to look around. “Well, you bastard, are you happy now? Are you happy with you’ve done?” She tried to walk closer to him, but other mourners held her back. “You are fucking evil, John Harris, and for what you have done, I hope that you spend a long and lonely eternity in hell.” With those fiery, last words, Ryanna simply walked away and never looked back.
A handkerchief in hand, John wiped the blood from his lip and watched the bitter young woman climb into a distant car with other mourners. As they drove away, John turned back to his roughnecks and dealers, most of them still looking on in disbelief.
“Is there a problem, fellas?” he asked.
“Do you want us to go after that cunt and teach her a lesson?” one of them asked.
“That’s not necessary, and neither is that language, Jermaine. Hell, man, you have a mother. Show some respect.” John began walking to his own car, leaving the others to follow.
“You cannot let her disrespect you like that. We should do something,” Jermaine insisted.
A conniving smile emerged on John Harris’s face. “God, no,” he said. “She just helped us out.”
“How—by beating some sense into you?”
“That’s not funny.”
“Then how did she help us?”
“Well, thanks to Ryanna, now I know what we have to do to make Da Baron pay attention.”
“Okay, talk to us. Let us know what ya thinking.”
And John Harris was quite happy to do just that. “Well, we were wrong to think that his organization would be vulnerable. If he’s smart—and he is smart—then he’s logically gonna protect every one of his key people and their big assets. That means, especially, now we won’t be able to get close to ‘em.”
Yet another in the group chimed in. “So what are you saying? This does not sound good.”
“So we shouldn’t try to hit them at the top again—at least, not directly. Instead, this time, we go after the people who he’d never think to protecting, the people who are most vulnerable in this fight.” John was looking into the eyes of each of his men, as he made this bold pitch. “I’m talking about parents, children, girlfriends, and anybody else whose death would make those motherfuckers wake up.” He paused for a moment to gauge their responses. “They’d never expect us to do it. But that’s their Achilles heel, and we can make it our trump card.”
At first, the sheer audacity of the idea left everyone speechless.
“I know this is hard,” John added. “I have never asked any of ya’ll to deliberately target innocent people, but for our own survival, I think we have to change all of that now. This will send the right message to Da Baron, and it could be just enough to break him. Yeah, killing these people will be hard, but we are sure to walk away without a single person dead on our side. They’ll never see us coming, and we’ll hit them so hard and so fast that they’ll come begging us to talk. It’s the perfect plan.”
Still, no one said a word.
“Think about this,” John contended, “If those bastards are strong, then for us to win we have to be smart. This is being smart.” He was remembering that from days ago, when it was said during a conversation with Patrick Dutton. “We can’t cave on this. We gotta do it…or you can bet some more of us will be in this cemetery.”
Finally, someone spoke. “When do we start?”
“So ya’ll all are down for this?” John asked for confirmation.
“It appears so,” another answered, as others nodded in agreement.
Those were the words that the young leader wanted to hear.
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