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Never Look A Gift Source In The Mouth

On the front porch sat three black males. On the sidewalk in front of the residence another black man paced to and fro like a scuttling ghost crab. As I drove by, he was the only one out of the four who seemed to pay me any mind. He stood still just long enough to stare at me like I was riding in a hovercraft then went back to his chore of wearing down the concrete.

What had brought me to their neighborhood was an address of someone whose house had gotten hit by Hurricane JADE. Least that’s what I’d been told a week prior; I was only getting around to nosing into it right then. I was charting Task Force search warrant activities (for reasons that deserve a blog entry of their very own) and didn’t want to stick a pushpin in the corresponding Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement map if it didn’t belong. I was also ever-looking for any sources -- which is why I squared the block and came back. Those fellows I’d passed were the kind that see everything.

Two of the porch-sitters had disappeared to parts unknown, the remaining one looked like he hadn’t moved a muscle except to tilt his chair back on two of its legs. I aimed for the curb and before I’d rolled to a stop, the tall, gaunt, street patroller was hanging on the doorjamb, ducked down, his face centered at my open passenger window.

He had a sickening sweet smell about him -- a mixture of smoke and candy. He was wearing a sweatshirt and had a dirty ball cap on backwards. What should’ve been the whites of his enormous pug-like eyes were a unique marbleized combination of tan and bloodshot. I couldn’t even begin to guess what age he was.

In the amount of time it took him to get out the words “can I he’p you?” I knew being direct was the only approach. Trying to be cagey with someone who couldn’t even keep his darting eyes from going in opposite directions of each other would’ve been superfluous. “Do you know who JADE is?” I asked.

“Jade? Sho’ do. She work Mickey Dees. Naw. Jade? She don’t work. I ain’t seen her.” While the tweaking lunatic in front of me argued with himself, the man on the stoop dropped his chin and looked down at us from his balanced chair. I raised my hand at him. It passed as a wave; he nodded once in response. I turned my attention back to the man I’d been talking to. “The JADE Task Force. What do you know about them?”

“You a repo’ter. I knowed it!” He grinned wide. What few teeth he had left matched the color and pattern of his eyes. Meth mouth in all its rotten glory.

I pulled out a handful of photographs and splayed them like playing cards. “Do you know any of these guys?” He frantically tapped one of the pictures. “Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah.” The man was now halfway through the window of my car -- his butt in the air on the outside, and his upper body suspended over the seat on the inside. “You got change, miss? I been kind a down on muh luck.” He stuck his mammoth bottom lip out and I could almost hear his buddy in the background smile.

I pulled cash out of my back pocket and with my thumb and forefinger held it under his nose. “This is coffee money.” He reached for it and I jerked it away. “You want lunch money, you tell me every place you’ve seen any one of these guys.” I circled my hand over the images that were on the seat. He gave me a tidy list and I gave him a couple more bills.

On the spot I believed what he told me, if for no other reason than that he included “down there, on Market.” I guess he thought I meant it when I said I wanted to know every place he’d seen them. I double-checked the rest of his information nonetheless; it had all been true and correct.