Ella couldn’t believe how atheist, how uncouth I had become. I believed that a man should do anything that he was slick enough, or bad and bold enough, to do and that a woman was nothing but another commodity. Every word I spokewas hip or profane. I would bet that my working vocabulary wasn’t two hundred words.
Even Shorty, whose apartment I now again shared, wasn’t prepared for how I lived and thought-like a predatory animal. Sometimes I would catch him watching me.
At first, I slept a lot-even at night. I had slept mostly in the daytime during the preceding two years. When awake, I smoked reefers. Shorty had originally introduced me to marijuana, and my consumption of it now astounded him.
I didn’t want to talk much, at first. When awake, I’d play records continuously. The reefers gave me a feeling of contentment. I would enjoy hours of floating, day dreaming, imaginary conversations with my New York musician friends.
Within two weeks, I’d had more sleep than during any two months when I had been in Harlem hustling day and night. When I finally went out in the Roxbury streets, it took me only a little while to locate a peddler of “snow”-cocaine. It was when I got back into that familiar snow feeling that I began to want to talk.
Cocaine produces, for those who sniff its powdery white crystals, an illusion of supreme wellbeing, and a soaring over-confidence in both physical and mental ability. You think you could whip the heavyweight champion, and that you are smarter than anybody. There was also that feeling of timelessness. And there were intervals of ability to recall and review things that had happened years back with an astonishing clarity.
Shorty’s band played at spots around Boston three or four nights a week. After he left for work, Sophia would come over and I’d talk about my plans. Shewould be gone back to her husband by the time Shorty returned from work, and I’d bend his ear until daybreak.
Sophia’s husband had gotten out of the military, and he was some sort of salesman. He was supposed to have a big deal going which soon would require his traveling a lot to the West Coast. I didn’t ask questions, but Sophia often indicated they weren’t doing too well. I know _I_ had nothing to do with that. He never dreamed I existed. A white woman might blow up at her husband and scream and yell and call him every name she can think of, and say the most vicious things in an effort to hurt him, and talk about his mother and his grandmother, too, but one thing she never will tell him herself is that she is going with a black man. That’s one automatic red murder flag to the white man, and his woman knows it.
Sophia always had given me money. Even when I had hundreds of dollars in my pocket, when she came to Harlem I would take everything she had short of her train fare back to Boston. It seems that some women love to be exploited. When they are not exploited, they exploit the man.
Anyway, it was his money that she gave me, I guess, because she never had worked. But now my demands on her increased, and she came up with more; again, I don’t know where she got it. Always, every now and then, I had given her a hard time, just to keep her in line. Every once in a while a woman seems to need, in fact _wants_ this, too. But now, I would feel evil and slap her around worse than ever, some of the nights when Shorty was away. She would cry, curse me, and swear that she would never be back. But I knew she wasn’t even thinking about not coming back.
Sophia’s being around was one of Shorty’s greatest pleasures about my homecoming. I have said it before, I never in my life have seen a black man that desired white women as sincerely as Shorty did. Since I had known him, he had had several. He had never been able to keep a white woman any length oftime, though, because he was too good to them, and, as I have said, any woman, white or black, seems to get bored with that.
It happened that Shorty was between white women when one night Sophia brought to the house her seventeen-year-old sister. I never saw anything like the way that she and Shorty nearly jumped for each other. For him, she wasn’t only a white girl, but a _young_ white girl. For her, he wasn’t only a Negro, but a Negro _musician_. In looks, she was a younger version of Sophia, who still turned heads. Sometimes I’d take the two girls to Negro places where Shorty played. Negroes showed thirty-two teeth apiece as soon as they saw the white girls. They would come over to your booth, or your table; they would stand there and drool. And Shorty was no better. He’d stand up there playing and watching that young girl waiting for him, and waving at him, and winking. As soon as the set was over, he’d practically run over people getting down to our table.
I didn’t lindy-hop any more now, I wouldn’t even have thought of it now, just as I wouldn’t have been caught in a zoot suit now. All of my suits were conservative. A banker might have worn my shoes.
I met Laura again. We were really glad to see each other. She was a lot more like me now, a good-time girl. We talked and laughed. She looked a lot older than she really was. She had no one man, she free-lanced around. She had long since moved away from her grandmother. Laura told me she had finished school, but then she gave up the college idea. Laura was high whenever I saw her, now, too; we smoked some reefers together.
* * *
After about a month of “laying dead,” as inactivity was called, I knew I had to get some kind of hustle going. A hustler, broke, needs a stake. Some nights when Shorty was playing, I would take whatever Sophia had been able to get for me, and I’d try to run it up into something, playing stud poker at John Hughes’ gambling house.
When I had lived in Roxbury before, John Hughes had been a big gambler who wouldn’t have spoken to me. But during the war the Roxbury “wire” had carried a lot about things I was doing in Harlem, and now the New York name magic was on me. That was the feeling that hustlers everywhere else had: if you could hustle and make it in New York, they were well off to know you; it gave them prestige. Anyway, through the same flush war years, John Hughes had hustled profitably enough to be able to open a pretty good gambling house.
John, one night, was playing in a game I was in. After the first two cards were dealt around the table, I had an ace showing. I looked beneath it at my hole card; another ace-a pair, back-to-back.
My ace showing made it my turn to bet.
But I didn’t rush. I sat there and studied.
Finally, I knocked my knuckles on the table, passing, leaving the betting to the next man. My action implied that beneath my ace was some “nothing” card that I didn’t care to risk my money on.
The player sitting next to me took the bait. He bet pretty heavily. And the next man raised him. Possibly each of them had small pairs. Maybe they just wanted to scare me out before I drew another ace. Finally, the bet reached John, who had a queen showing; he raised everybody.
Now, there was no telling what John had. John truly was a clever gambler. Hecould gamble as well as anybody I had gambled with in New York.
So the bet came back to me. It was going to cost me a lot of money to call all the raises. Some of them obviously had good cards but I knew I had every one of them beat. But again I studied, and studied; I pretended perplexity. And finally I put in my money, calling the bets.
The same betting pattern went on, with each new card, right around to the last card. And when that last card went around, I hit another ace in sight. Three aces. And John hit another queen in sight.
He bet a pile. Now, everyone else studied a long time-and, one by one, all folded their hands. Except me. All I could do was put what I had left on the table.
If I’d had the money, I could have raised five hundred dollars or more, and he’d have had to call me. John couldn’t have gone the rest of his life wondering if I had bluffed him out of a pot that big.
I showed my hole card ace; John had three queens. As I hauled in the pot, something over five hundred dollars-my first real stake in Boston-John got up from the table. He’d quit. He told his house man, “Anytime Red comes in here and wants anything, let him have it.” He said, “I’ve never seen a young man play his hole card like he played.”
John said “young man,” being himself about fifty, I guess, although you can never be certain about a Negro’s age. He thought, as most people would have, that I was about thirty. No one in Roxbury except my sisters Ella and Mary suspected my real age.
The story of that poker game helped my on-scene reputation among the othergamblers and hustlers around Roxbury. Another thing that happened in John’s gambling house contributed: the incident that made it known that I carried not a gun, but some guns.
John had a standing rule that anyone who came into the place to gamble had to check his guns if he had any. I always checked two guns. Then, one night, when a gambler tried to pull something slick, I drew a third gun, from its shoulder holster. This added to the rest of my reputation the word that I was “trigger-happy” and “crazy.”
Looking back, I think I really was at least slightly out of my mind. I viewed narcotics as most people regard food. I wore my guns as today I wear my neckties. Deep down, I actually believed that after living as fully as humanly possible, one should then die violently. I expected then, as I still expect today, to die at any time. But then, I think I deliberately invited death in many, sometimes insane, ways.
For instance, a merchant marine sailor who knew me and my reputation came into a bar carrying a package. He motioned me to follow him downstairs into the men’s room. He unwrapped a stolen machine gun; he wanted to sell it. I said, “How do I know it works?” He loaded it with a cartridge clip, and told me that all I would have to do then was squeeze the trigger release. I took the gun, examined it, and the first thing he knew I had it jammed right up in his belly. I told him I would blow him wide open. He went backwards out of the rest room and up the stairs the way Bill “Bojangles” Robinson used to dance going backwards. He knew I was crazy enough to kill him. I was insane enough not to consider that he might just wait his chance to kill me. For perhaps a month I kept the machine gun at Shorty’s before I was broke and sold it.
When Reginald came to Roxbury visiting, he was shocked at what he’d found out upon returning to Harlem. I spent some time with him. He still was the kidbrother whom I still felt more “family” toward than I felt now even for our sister Ella. Ella still liked me. I would go to see her once in a while. But Ella had never been able to reconcile herself to the way I had changed. She has since told me that she had a steady foreboding that I was on my way into big trouble. But I always had the feeling that Ella somehow admired my rebellion against the world, because she, who had so much more drive and guts than most men, often felt stymied by having been born female.
Had I been thinking only in terms of myself, maybe I would have chosen steady gambling as a hustle. There were enough chump gamblers that hung around John Hughes’ for a good gambler to make a living off them; chumps that worked, usually. One would just have to never miss the games on their paydays. Besides, John Hughes had offered me a job dealing for games; I didn’t want that.
But I had come around to thinking not only of myself. I wanted to get something going that could help Shorty, too. We had been talking; I really felt sorry for Shorty. The same old musician story. The so-called glamor of being a musician, earning just about enough money so that after he paid rent and bought his reefers and food and other routine things, he had nothing left. Plus debts. How could Shorty have anything? I’d spent years in Harlem and on the road around the most popular musicians, the “names,” even, who really were making big money for musicians-and they had nothing.
For that matter, all the thousands of dollars I’d handled, and _I_ had nothing. Just satisfying my cocaine habit alone cost me about twenty dollars a day. I guess another five dollars a day could have been added for reefers and plain tobacco cigarettes that I smoked; besides getting high on drugs, I chain-smoked as many as four packs a day. And, if you ask me today, I’ll tell you that tobacco, in all its forms, is just as much an addiction as any narcotic.
When I opened the subject of a hustle with Shorty, I started by first bringing him to agree with my concept-of which he was a living proof-that only squares kept on believing they could ever get anything by slaving.
And when I mentioned what I had in mind-house burglary Shorty, who always had been so relatively conservative, really surprised me by how quickly he agreed. He didn’t even know anything about burglarizing.
When I began to explain how it was done, Shorty wanted to bring in this friend of his, whom I had met, and liked, called Rudy.
Rudy’s mother was Italian, his father was a Negro. He was born right there in Boston, a short, light fellow, a pretty boy type. Rudy worked regularly for an employment agency that sent him to wait on tables at exclusive parties. He had a side deal going, a hustle that took me right back to the old steering days in Harlem. Once a week, Rudy went to the home of this old, rich Boston blueblood, pillar-of-society aristocrat. He paid Rudy to undress them both, then pick up the old man like a baby, lay him on his bed, then stand over him and sprinkle him all over with _talcum powder_, Rudy said the old man would actually reach his climax from that.
I told him and Shorty about some of the things I’d seen. Rudy said that as far as he knew, Boston had no organized specialty sex houses, just individual rich whites who had their private specialty desires catered to by Negroes who came to their homes camouflaged as chauffeurs, maids, waiters, or some other accepted image. Just as in New York, these were the rich, the highest society-the predominantly old men, past the age of ability to conduct any kind of ordinary sex, always hunting for new ways to be “sensitive.”
Rudy, I remember, spoke of one old white man who paid a black couple to let him watch them have intercourse on his bed. Another was so “sensitive” thathe paid to sit on a chair outside a room where a couple was-he got his satisfaction just from imagining what was going on inside.
A good burglary team includes, I knew, what is called a “finder.” A finder is one who locates lucrative places to rob. Another principal need is someone able to “case” these places’ physical layouts-to determine means of entry, the best getaway routes, and so forth. Rudy qualified on both counts. Being sent to work in rich homes, he wouldn’t be suspected when he sized up their loot and cased the joint, just running around looking busy with a white coat on.
Rudy’s reaction, when he was told what we had in mind, was something, I remember, like “Man, when do we start?”
But I wasn’t rushing off half-cocked. I had learned from some of the pros, and from my own experience, how important it was to be careful and plan. Burglary, properly executed, though it had its dangers, offered the maximum chances of success with the minimum risk. If you did your job so that you never met any of your victims, it first lessened your chances of having to attack or perhaps kill someone. And if through some slip-up you were caught, later, by the police, there was never a positive eyewitness.
It is also important to select an area of burglary and stick to that. There are specific specialties among burglars. Some work apartments only, others houses only, others stores only, or warehouses; still others will go after only safes or strongboxes.
Within the residence burglary category, there are further specialty distinctions. There are the day burglars, the dinner-and theater-time burglars, the night burglars. I think that any city’s police will tell you that very rarely do they find one type who will work at another time. For instance Jumpsteady, in Harlem, was a nighttime apartment specialist. It would have been hard to persuadeJumpsteady to work in the daytime if a millionaire had gone out for lunch and left his front door wide open.
I had one very practical reason never to work in the daytime, aside from my inclinations. With my high visibility, I’d have been sunk in the daytime. I could just hear people: “A reddish-brown Negro over six feet tall.” One glance would be enough.
* * *
Setting up what I wanted to be the perfect operation, I thought about pulling the white girls into it for two reasons. One was that I realized we’d be too limited relying only upon places where Rudy worked as a waiter. He didn’t get to work in too many places; it wouldn’t be very long before we ran out of sources. And when other places had to be found and cased in the rich, white residential areas, Negroes hanging around would stick out like sore thumbs, but these white girls could get invited into the right places.
I disliked the idea of having too many people involved, all at the same time. But with Shorty and Sophia’s sister so close now, and Sophia and me as though we had been together for fifty years, and Rudy as eager and cool as he was, nobody would be apt to spill, everybody would be under the same risk; we would be like a family unit.
I never doubted that Sophia would go along. Sophia would do anything I said. And her sister would do anything that Sophia said. They both went for it. Sophia’s husband was away on one of his trips to the coast when I told her and her sister.
Most burglars, I knew, were caught not on the job, but trying to dispose of the loot. Finding the fence we used was a rare piece of luck. We agreed upon theplan for operations. The fence didn’t work with us directly. He had a representative, an ex-con, who dealt with me, and no one else in my gang. Aside from his regular business, he owned around Boston several garages and small warehouses. The arrangement was that before a job, I would alert the representative, and give him a general idea of what we expected to get, and he’d tell me at which garage or warehouse we should make the drop. After we had made our drop, the representative would examine the stolen articles. He would remove all identifying marks from everything. Then he would call the fence, who would come and make a personal appraisal. The next day the representative would meet me at a prearranged place and would make the payment for what we had stolen-in cash.
One thing I remember. This fence always sent your money in crisp, brand-new bills. He was smart. Somehow that had a very definite psychological effect upon all of us, after we had pulled a job, walking around with that crisp green money in our pockets. He may have had other reasons.
We needed a base of operations-not in Roxbury. The girls rented an apartment in Harvard Square. Unlike Negroes, these white girls could go shopping for the locale and physical situation we wanted. It was on the ground floor, where, moving late at night, all of us could come and go without attracting notice.
* * *
In any organization, someone must be the boss. If it’s even just one person, you’ve got to be the boss of yourself.
At our gang’s first meeting in the apartment, we discussed how we were going to work. The girls would get into houses to case them by ringing bells and saying they were saleswomen, poll-takers, college girls making a survey, or anything else suitable. Once in the houses, they would get around as much as theycould without attracting attention. Then, back, they would report what special valuables they had seen, and where. They would draw the layout for Shorty, Rudy, and me. We agreed that the girls would actually burglarize only in special cases where there would be some advantage. But generally the three men would go, two of us to do the job while the third kept watch in the getaway car, with the motor running.
Talking to them, laying down the plans, I had deliberately sat on a bed away from them. All of a sudden, I pulled out my gun, shook out all five bullets, and then let them see me put back only one bullet. I twirled the cylinder, and put the muzzle to my head. “Now, I’m going to see how much guts all of you have,” I said.
I grinned at them. All of their mouths had flapped open. I pulled the trigger-we all heard it _click_. “I’m going to do it again, now.”
They begged me to stop. I could see in Shorty’s and Rudy’s eyes some idea of rushing me.
We all heard the hammer _click_ on another empty cylinder. The women were in hysterics. Rudy and Shorty were begging, _”Man. . . Red. . . cut it out, man!. . . Freeze!”_ I pulled the trigger once more.
“I’m doing this, showing you I’m not afraid to die,” I told them. “Never cross a man not afraid to die. . . now, let’s get to work!”
I never had one moment’s trouble with any of them after that. Sophia acted awed, her sister all but called me “Mr. Red.” Shorty and Rudy were never again quite the same with me. Neither of them ever mentioned it. They thought I was crazy. They were afraid of me.
We pulled the first job that night-the place of the old man who hired Rudy to sprinkle him with talcum powder. A cleaner job couldn’t have been asked for. Everything went like clockwork. The fence was full of praise; he proved he meant it with his crisp, new money. The old man later told Rudy how a small army of detectives had been there-and they decided that the job had the earmarks of some gang which had been operating around Boston for about a year.
We quickly got it down to a science. The girls would scout and case in wealthy neighborhoods. The burglary would be pulled; sometimes it took no more than ten minutes. Shorty and I did most of the actual burglary. Rudy generally had the getaway car.
If the people weren’t at home, we’d use a passkey on a common door lock. On a patent lock, we’d use a jimmy, as it’s called, or a lockpick. Or, sometimes, we would enter by windows from a fire-escape, or a roof. Gullible women often took the girls all over their houses, just to hear them exclaiming over the finery. With the help of the girls’ drawings and a finger-beam searchlight, we went straight to the things we wanted.
Sometimes the victims were in their beds asleep. That may sound very daring. Actually, it was almost easy. The first thing we had to do when people were in the house was to wait, very still, and pick up the sounds of breathing. Snorers we loved; they made it real easy. In stockinged feet, we’d go right into the bedrooms. Moving swiftly, like shadows, we would lift clothes, watches, wallets, handbags, and jewelry boxes.
The Christmas season was Santa Claus for us; people had expensive presents lying all over their houses. And they had taken more cash than usual out of their banks. Sometimes, working earlier than we usually did, we even worked houses that we hadn’t cased. If the shades were drawn full, and no lights wereon, and there was no answer when one of the girls rang the bell, we would take the chance and go in.
I can give you a very good tip if you want to keep burglars out of your house. A light on for the burglar to see is the very best single means of protection. One of the ideal things is to leave a bathroom light on all night. The bathroom is one place where somebody could be, for any length of time, at any time of the night, and he would be likely to hear the slightest strange sound. The burglar, knowing this, won’t try to enter. ‘It’s also the cheapest possible protection. The kilowatts are a lot cheaper than your valuables.
We became efficient. The fence sometimes relayed tips as to where we could find good loot. It was in this way that for one period, one of our best periods, I remember, we specialized in Oriental rugs. I have always suspected that the fence himself sold the rugs to the people we stole them from. But, anyway, you wouldn’t imagine the value of those things. I remember one small one that brought us a thousand dollars. There’s no telling what the fence got for it. Every burglar knew that fences robbed the burglars worse than the burglars had robbed the victims.
Our only close brush with the law came once when we were making our getaway, three of us in the front seat of the car, and the back seat loaded with stuff. Suddenly we saw a police car round the corner, coming toward us, and it went on past us. They were just cruising. But then in the rear-view mirror, we saw them make a U-turn, and we knew they were going to flash us to stop. They had spotted us, in passing, as Negroes, and they knew that Negroes had no business in the area at that hour. It was a close situation. There was a lot of robbery going on; we weren’t the only gang working, we knew, not by any means. But I knew that the white man is rare who will ever consider that a Negro can outsmart him. Before their light began flashing, I told Rudy to stop. I did what I’d done once before-got out and flagged them, walking toward them. Whenthey stopped, I was at their car. I asked them, bumbling my words like a confused Negro, if they could tell me how to get to a Roxbury address. They told me, and we, and they, went on about our respective businesses.
We were going along fine. We’d make a good pile and then lay low awhile, living it up. Shorty still played with his band, Rudy never missed attending his sensitive old man, or the table-waiting at his exclusive parties, and the girls maintained their routine home schedules.
Sometimes, I still took the girls out to places where Shorty played, and to other places, spending money as though it were going out of style, the girls dressed in jewelry and furs they had selected from our hauls. No one knew our hustle, but it was clear that we were doing fine. And sometimes, the girls would come over and we’d meet them either at Shorty’s in Roxbury or in our Harvard Square place, and just smoke reefers, and play music. It’s a shame to tell on a man, but Shorty was so obsessed with the white girl that even if the lights were out, he would pull up the shade to be able to see that white flesh by the street lamp from outside.
* * *
Early evenings when we were laying low between jobs, I often went to a Massachusetts Avenue nightclub called the Savoy. And Sophia would telephone me there punctually. Even when we pulled jobs, I would leave from this club, then rush back there after the job. The reason was so that if it was ever necessary, people could testify that they had seen me at just about the time the job was pulled. Negroes being questioned by policemen would be very hard to pin down on any exact time.
Boston at this time had two Negro detectives. Ever since I had come back on the Roxbury scene, one of these detectives, a dark brown fellow named Turner,had never been able to stand me, and it was mutual. He talked about what he would do to me, and I had promptly put an answer back on the wire. I knew from the way he began to act that he had heard it. Everyone knew that I carried guns. And he did have sense enough to know that I wouldn’t hesitate to use them-and on him, detective or not.
This early evening I was in this place when at the usual time, the phone in the booth rang. It rang just as this detective Turner happened to walk in through the front door. He saw me start to get up, he knew the call was for me, but stepped inside the booth, and answered.
I heard him saying, looking straight at me, “Hello, hello, hello-” And I knew that Sophia, taking no chances with the strange voice, had hung up.
“Wasn’t that call for me?” I asked Turner.
He said that it was.
I said, “Well, why didn’t you say so?”
He gave me a rude answer. I knew he wanted me to make a move, first. We both were being cagey. We both knew that we wanted to kill each other. Neither wanted to say the wrong thing. Turner didn’t want to say anything that, repeated, would make him sound bad. I didn’t want to say anything that could be interpreted as a threat to a cop.
But I remember exactly what I said to him anyway, purposely loud enough for some people at the bar to hear me. I said, “You know, Turner-you’re trying to make history. Don’t you know that if you play with me, you certainly will go down in history because you’ve got to kill me?”
Turner looked at me. Then he backed down. He walked on by me. I guess he wasn’t ready to make history.
I had gotten to the point where I was walking on my own coffin.
It’s a law of the rackets that every criminal expects to get caught. He tries to stave off the inevitable for as long as he can.
Drugs helped me push the thought to the back of my mind. They were the center of my life. I had gotten to the stage where every day I used enough drugs-reefers, cocaine, or both-so that I felt above any worries, any strains. If any worries did manage to push their way through to the surface of my consciousness, I could float them back where they came from until tomorrow, and then until the next day.
But where, always before, I had been able to smoke the reefers and to sniff the snow and rarely show it very much, by now it was not that easy.
One week when we weren’t working-after a big haul-I was just staying high, and I was out nightclubbing. I came into this club, and from the bartender’s face when he spoke, “Hello, Red,” I knew that something was wrong. But I didn’t ask him anything. I’ve always had this rule-never ask anybody in that kind of situation; they will tell you what they want you to know. But the bartender didn’t get a chance to tell me, if he had meant to. When I sat down on a stool and ordered a drink, I saw them.
Sophia and her sister sat at a table inside, near the dance floor, with a white man.
I don’t know how I ever made such a mistake as I next did. I could have talkedto her later. I didn’t know, or care, who the white fellow was. My cocaine told me to get up.
It wasn’t Sophia’s husband. It was his closest friend. They had served in the war together. With her husband out of town, he had asked Sophia and her sister out to dinner, and they went. But then, later, after dinner, driving around, he had suddenly suggested going over to the black ghetto.
Every Negro who lives in a city has seen the type a thousand times, the Northern cracker who will go to visit “niggertown,” to be amused at “the coons.”
The girls, so well known in the Negro places in Roxbury, had tried to change his mind, but he had insisted. So they had just held their breaths coming into this club where they had been a hundred times. They walked in stiff-eyeing the bartenders and waiters who caught their message and acted as though they never had seen them before. And they were sitting there with drinks before them, praying that no Negro who knew them would barge up to their table.
Then up I came. I know I called them “Baby.” They were chalky-white, he was beet-red.
That same night, back at the Harvard Square place, I really got sick. It was less of a physical sickness than it was all of the last five years catching up. I was in my pajamas in bed, half asleep, when I heard someone knock.
I knew that something was wrong. We all had keys. No one ever knocked at the door. I rolled oft and under the bed; I was so groggy it didn’t cross my mind to grab for my gun on the dresser.
Under the bed, I heard the key turn, and I saw the shoes and pants cuffs walk in. I watched them walk around. I saw them stop. Every time they stopped, Iknew what the eyes were looking at. And I knew, before he did, that he was going to get down and look under the bed. He did. It was Sophia’s husband’s friend. His face was about two feet from mine. It looked congealed.
“Ha, ha, ha, I fooled you, didn’t I?” I said. It wasn’t at all funny. I got out from under the bed, still fake-laughing. He didn’t run, I’ll say that for him. He stood back; he watched me as though I were a snake.
I didn’t try to hide what he already knew. The girls had some things in the closets, and around; he had seen all of that. We even talked some. I told him the girls weren’t there, and he left. What shook me the most was realizing that I had trapped myself under the bed without a gun. I really was slipping.
* * *
I had put a stolen watch into a jewelry shop to replace a broken crystal. It was about two days later, when I went to pick up the watch, that things fell apart.
As I have said, a gun was as much a part of my dress as a necktie. I had my gun in a shoulder holster, under my coat.
The loser of the watch, the person from whom it had been stolen by us, I later found, had described the repair that it needed. It was a very expensive watch, that’s why I had kept it for myself. And all of the jewelers in Boston had been alerted.
The Jew waited until I had paid him before he laid the watch on the counter. He gave his signal-and this other fellow suddenly appeared, from the back, walking toward me.
One hand was in his pocket. I knew he was a cop. He said, quietly, “Step into the back.”
Just as I started back there, an innocent Negro walked into the shop. I remember later hearing that he had just that day gotten out of the military. The detective, thinking he was with me, turned to him.
There I was, wearing my gun, and the detective talking to that Negro with his back to me. Today I believe that Allah was with me even then. I didn’t try to shoot him. And that saved my life.
I remember that his name was Detective Slack.
I raised my arm, and motioned to him, “Here, take my gun.”
I saw his face when he took it. He was shocked. Because of the sudden appearance of the other Negro, he had never thought about a gun. It really moved him that I hadn’t tried to kill him.
Then, holding my gun in his hand, he signaled. And out from where they had been concealed walked two other detectives. They’d had me covered. One false move, I’d have been dead.
I was going to have a long time in prison to think about that.
If I hadn’t been arrested right when I was, I could have been dead another way. Sophia’s husband’s friend had told her husband about me. And the husband had arrived that morning, and had gone to the apartment with a gun, looking for me. He was at the apartment just about when they took me to the precinct.
The detectives grilled me. They didn’t beat me. They didn’t even put a fingeron me. And I knew it was because I hadn’t tried to kill the detective.
They got my address from some papers they found on me. The girls soon were picked up. Shorty was pulled right off the bandstand that night. The girls also had implicated Rudy. To this day, I have always marveled at how Rudy, somehow, got the word, and I know he must have caught the first thing smoking out of Boston, and he got away. They never got him.
I have thought a thousand times, I guess, about how I so narrowly escaped death twice that day. That’s why I believe that everything is written.
The cops found the apartment loaded with evidence-fur coats, some jewelry, other small stuff-plus the tools of our trade. A jimmy, a lockpick, glass cutters, screwdrivers, pencil-beam flashlights, false keys. . . and my small arsenal of guns. The girls got low bail. They were still white-burglars or not. Their worst crime was their involvement with Negroes. But Shorty and I had bail set at $10, 000 each, which they knew we were nowhere near able to raise.
The social workers worked on us. White women in league with Negroes was their main obsession. The girls weren’t so-called “tramps,” or “trash,” they were well-to-do upper-middleclass whites. That bothered the social workers and the forces of the law more than anything else.
How, where, when, had I met them? Did we sleep together? Nobody wanted to know anything at all about the robberies. All they could see was that we had taken the white man’s women.
I just looked at the social workers: “Now, what do you think?”
Even the court clerks and the bailiffs: “Nice white girls . . . goddam niggers-” It was the same even from our court-appointed lawyers as we sat down, underguard, at a table, as our hearing assembled. Before the judge entered, I said to one lawyer, “We seem to be getting sentenced because of those girls.” He got red from the neck up and shuffled his papers: “You had no business with white girls!”
Later, when I had learned the full truth about the white man, I reflected many times that the average burglary sentence for a first offender, as we all were, was about two years. But we weren’t going to get the average-not for _our_ crime.
* * *
I want to say before I go on that I have never previously told anyone my sordid past in detail. I haven’t done it now to sound as though I might be proud of how bad, how evil, I was.
But people are always speculating-why am I as I am? To understand that of any person, his whole life, from birth, must be reviewed. All of our experiences fuse into our personality. Everything that ever happened to us is an ingredient.
Today, when everything that I do has an urgency, I would not spend one hour in the preparation of a book which had the ambition to perhaps titillate some readers. But I am spending many hours because the full story is the best way that I know to have it seen, and understood, that I had sunk to the very bottom of the American white man’s society when-soon now, in prison-I found Allah and the religion of Islam and it completely transformed my life.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://al-rasid.com/shared_uploads/The.Autobiography.of.MalcolmX.pdf
Photo from: ModernBenjamin (2016). The Autobiography of Malcolm X: Book Review. Retrieved from https://modernbenjamin.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/the-autobiography-of-malcolm-x-book-review/