I wrote a feature length script called Queenpin in graduate school many moons ago. It’s received numerous awards and I’ve toyed with the idea of converting that script into a novel. I’ve been reading books since I was 5 so to tackle this took alot of heart. Leave your thoughts in the comments.
“Cinderella dressed in yellow, went upstairs to kiss a fella. Made a mistake and kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take?” Jump Rope Rhyme – Anonymous
Loud and boisterous laughter fills the small space of an apartment where glasses clink and profanity flies through the room like a fairy-tale dragon on its way to slay the local village people. Each word soars freely through the air to wrap around and destroy everything in its path. Men and women lounge around the living space embracing each curse word then shooting a cannon of laughter back at it. A short petite black girl named Ebony shuffles in her footed colorful pajamas through the usual crowd of people in her parents’ apartment. She walks in on those parents in the bathroom having a heated argument. Pat and Greg “Cutthroat” McDaniels always kiss and make up so Ebony rolls her eyes and ignores them. She leaps up onto the toilet to brush her teeth and scrub the cold out of her eyes. Princess Ebony has adoring fans waiting for her in the courtyard. She wonders how many will show up today and want to play! It’s lonely being around adults all day and she has noticed more of daddy’s male friends staring. Especially when she is in her pajamas. One of those drunken men ended up stumbling into her bedroom the other night. But her daddy cutthroat took care of that. Matter of fact the more Ebony thinks about it she hasn’t seen that drunken fellow since. She spits a clump of foamy toothpaste into the sink and examines her pearly white teeth. She then jumps down off of the toilet and scuttles away.
Minutes later Ebony is bundled in an overcoat with matching gloves heading out into the cold Fall weather of New York City. It’s 1996 and no one from the Tilden Projects in Brownsville will ever see their ghetto princess without the finest fashion life has to offer. The McDaniels make too much drug money to let Ebony go out of the house without looking what they hope is filthy rich. They have a status to uphold and without her consent Ebony is a part of the façade. The only way to survive the drug game is to be ten paces ahead of the next fool who wants not just your position but the life you have built. Which is why Ebony is always escorted by a local thug wherever she goes. Today it’s Ricky, tomorrow is Pedro and the list goes on in the rotation. All vying for being the right hand man of Cutthroat but less than an hour from now none of that will matter.
Dirty brown leaves withered by the cold crisp air kicks and swirls through the reddened sky revealing an assortment of dilapidated buildings in one of the toughest parts of Brooklyn New York. Samuel J. Tilden was the 25th governor of New York in 1875 and like most relevant politicians he would later have a housing project and public school named after him. The family legacy created by his father was a patented medicine called Tilden Extract that claimed to do a lot but mostly got you high since its base ingredient was Cannabis. Samuel didn’t take on the family business after his father died and would probably be horrified to know that at one point marijuana was big business in the Tilden Projects. However the current drug of choice supplied by the McDaniels family is the Cocaine being smuggled in from Miami. Greg has a hard line on a new supplier and is going toe to toe with his wife on a daily basis to clean up her own coke addiction. You are never supposed to get high on your own supply but since she isn’t supplying it, Pat thought it was only right to sample. At six years old Ebony has the intelligence to know her mom being slumped over the toilet with blood running from her nose can’t be a good thing. However Ebony doesn’t have the time or patience to fix her mom. She has minions to deal with outside who hold court for their princess. They dance, sing and jump rope their way into her heart every day to make the horrors go away. Her best friend and confidante Renae Saunders is always there to compete in the weekly games. Hop scotch, double dutch jump rope, red light, green light 1, 2, 3 and Manhunt is always part of the rotation. It makes the Tilden projects not so bleak. Plus the girls are finally in a respectable double dutch jump rope competition with the divas from the 2nd floor. So these project kids leave the slaying of dragons to someone else and instead play with the jesters who are paid to entertain and watch over them.
Upstairs far away from the crisp air whipping a frenzy on the kids outside are Pat and Greg. They have spilled their argument out into the living room adding more flames for the fire breathing dragon. Greg slams down into a chair and settles in for another round of poker but takes one last jab at his wife. “What would you do without me around? Hit the corner where I got you from?” Pat staggers back like she has been slapped. She stares at him for a full minute then regroups and leans over to whisper in Greg’s ear “at least those men can keep it up” then she saunters away with her voluptuous hips swaying. The men around the table lean over to watch her retreat. Greg smirks and places a pistol on the poker table. The men snap to attention and stare down at their playing cards.
Back outside in the courtyard a crowd of young children has gathered to play and are oblivious to the shabby world around them. A thick double-dutch jump rope beats against the broken pavement. Ebony dives in first and easily establishes a rhythm. Her petite frame and light brown skin picks up the twinkle of red that bleeds across the cold sky. Her long hair is plaited full of braids and adorned with colorful barrettes. With each bounce of the rope her barrettes make a click clackety sound in the windy courtyard. The children chant in unison “Cinderella dressed in yellow, went upstairs to kiss a fella…” Her best friend and confidante Renae is poised outside of the rope bouncing on her haunches trying to figure a good way into the jump rope. She hesitates adjusting her bottle-cap eyeglasses. Her dark skin is flawless and her little pudge belly jiggles when she laughs. All the beef patties and coco breads from the corner bodegas has made Renae a happy overweight little girl. In the hood you can make a full meal out of just two bucks from quarter waters, wise potato chips, veggie hero sandwiches, beef patties, little debbie snack cakes and the list goes on. Renae’s family is barely scraping by even though her mother is a registered nurse making over $40,000 a year. That doesn’t go far when you have four kids from three different men. Having that many jobless baby fathers’ makes Miss Saunders work as much overtime as possible, leaving the kids to babysit each other. What the RN is doing isn’t legal in any of the 51 states but in the projects they take care of their own. You share what you can and give what you have in order to make a way. Ebony looks over to yell at her friend, “Jump in Renae. I’ll help you!” So Renae barrels in pumping her legs to try and keep up. The crowd of young children continue to chant “made a mistake and kissed a snake, how many doctors did it take?” Ebony extends her hand to Renae as the rope picks up pace. Renae struggles but maintains her momentum. In unison, they hop closer and closer to one another. Just as they meet in the middle and clasp hands, the rope stops and all goes silent in the courtyard.
Fifteen heavily armed and dark-garbed police officers stand at attention outside the entrance of the Tilden Housing complex. These soldiers have come from afar to slay the dragon. Thugs on the corner drop 40 ounce bottles of beer onto the pavement and ease into the background. They are engulfed by the shadows and begin to cackle like a pack of Hyena. The faint sound of laughter rides the breeze until nothing is left. Ebony scans the courtyard desperately for her protector Ricky. She glares as he dips around the nearest corner away from the police. Ebony’s minions begin to scream and scatter in opposite directions. Ebony and Renae stand fast with hands clasped and slowly look up to the sixth floor windows.
With their weapons drawn, the police officers maneuver through piss-infested hallways until they reach the steel door labeled APARTMENT 613. Outside in the courtyard Ebony and Renae stare up at the 6th floor, mesmerized by the sudden flashes of light and gunfire that explode into a cacophony of horrific sounds. Time stands still until the front door of the housing complex explodes open. A harsh wind blows leaves everywhere and the girls jump back trembling. Moments later Pat McDaniels emerges wearing a faux fur coat with costume diamond rings and earrings on. A female officer with the exaggerated features of a bull dog smiles and waves at the local news reporters gathering around the building. She drags Pat towards a paddy-wagon or what you call a police van. Ebony trembles in her best friends embrace but breaks free and races forward to latch onto Pat “Momma?” Pat squares her shoulders and walks past her daughter. She spins around with flames licking in her eyes and straightens her spine then states “these gentleman just want to ask your mama some questions, sugar. I will be home by supper.” She is tossed into the back of the paddy-wagon and drops her head in defeat.
The doors of a smooth finished black Lincoln Town car opens and a young white Detective named Williams emerges. He is suited and booted from head to toe in a stylish black suit and uses a white handkerchief to mop his brow. Having orchestrated this take down in a two year undercover sting operation was no small feat. He lost his marriage, kids and carries a big shiny silver scepter in the form of a cane to help with his limp. One of the now locked up drug suppliers in Miami pulled out a Beretta and shredded his leg below the kneecap. At only 35 years old the police force and undercover work is all the Detective has. To see Pat and Greg marched out among the cameras brings a swell of pride to his heart making the loss of a home less painful. Detective Williams surveys the neighborhood gawkers with smug satisfaction and addresses his squad “Where is he?!” The scarred and tattooed mastermind Greg “Cutthroat” McDaniels is escorted out of the building with his head held high and defiant. He glares at Detective Williams and the rest of the dragon slayers “to the conqueror goes the spoils but you won’t hold me. Everything in that apartment isn’t mine. It’s called a sublease so you got nothing on me motherfuckers but making me lose my card game.” He spits coagulated blood onto the dingy courtyard and laughs. To his left Ebony is having an emotional break down. She is rocking from side to side emitting moans and sobs that bounce around the courtyard. The sounds are on the wind and every person it reaches slowly turns to stare at the source of the noise. She gathers strength from the dozens of eyes and runs up to her father as the sun breaks through the reddened sky. He towers over his daughter and the red sun casts a shadow masking his face. Ebony rushes to his side “Daddy! I want to go with you!” Flashbulbs from the news camera crews go off like little explosions on the battle field blinding everything in its path.
At that moment the front door of the building explodes open and a gunman comes out with weapons blazing. Cutthroat to Ebony “Baby, get down!” He tries to shield his daughter but is dragged away by police as bullets spin and zip through the crowd. “Daddy!” Ebony stands frozen in the middle of the fire storm. Off to the side Renae snaps out of her trance and yells at the top of her lungs “Ebony! Run!!” She rushes towards her best friend but a bullet ricochets off the concrete and hits Renae in the leg. She falls on top of Ebony, protecting her as blood gushes from her leg. Detective Williams grabs his own leg haunted by the pain on Renae’s face. Pat slams into the windows of the paddy-wagon like a caged animal wanting to be set free to cause havoc. She looks on horrified from the caged van. Detective Williams lets go of his own phantom wound and watches Renae embrace Ebony for a beat. He steels his resolve and address the gunman “why you piece of shit!” He tussles with then overpowers the gunman and fires his weapon until it is smoking and empty. The courtyard falls silent for a beat. Cutthroat roars at the crowd “Get a damn ambulance!” and lunges at Detective Williams who now straddles the dead gunman. The men are soon kicking and screaming at each other even while Cutthroat is in handcuffs “you did this! She is bleeding man. A little fucking kid is out here bleeding!! My baby could have been killed!” It takes a pile of police officers to tear the handcuffed Cutthroat away as Detective Williams staggers to his feet “Lock everything down and get that son of a bitch in shackles!” Renae and Ebony are ripped apart. Renae is loaded into an ambulance and Ebony is tucked into a police car. Both vehicles drive away in opposite directions and disappear into the shadows of the ghetto.
At Oswego high school in upstate New York an exuberant graduation is occurring. Soon to be graduates have turned the gymnasium into a funnel of chatter directed at the educational staff. Around the room the young adults are happy to discuss future plans for college and finding a job. Standing to the left of a makeshift platform holding diplomas and awards is an 18 year old Ebony. The year is 2008 and Ebony is now a beautiful, curvaceous young woman, dressed in a graduation cap and gown. Her stoic eyes survey the crowd as she waits her turn to receive her diploma. In the background, the principal calls out the names of the graduates with families and friends yelling out their support in return. The Principal addresses the packed auditorium “and now for one of our highest honors at Oswego High School. This year’s recipient of the Ralph Shapiro Certificate of Academic Achievement in Mathematics” The crowd is silently waiting “– Ebony McDaniels.” She steps onto the platform to accept her diploma to polite applause. She doesn’t shake his hand. No one cheers for her.
The sun slowly dips down to earth; a raging fireball being extinguished by the blackness that is night. The surrounding fields of high blade grass glows for a moment seeking out the last rays of light before the utter darkness descends. In small town America there aren’t mean street lamps to light your way. But the human eye is a fascinating thing because once light is extinguished your pupils dilate and adjust. They seek out the edges of objects and paint a picture in your brain on what it is. Which is why most people can walk through the darkness to take a piss without bumping into things. In the distance a small parking lot has a few cars in front of a small makeshift house labeled “Tony’s Pizza Parlor.” The only Italian eatery in small town Oswego where everyone actually does know your name. However unlike the popular Cheers bar in Boston this place doesn’t sell alcohol. There is also no stealing and getting away with it in this town because generation after generation of one family has flowed through the Sheriff’s office. There is a directory of names and faces similar to mugshots of every person who has lived and visited the town of Oswego. The Sheriff and his cronies are a bit obsessed with the safety of everyone in town. Especially if you pay them handsomely to keep their trap shut when you want to open a meth lab or run marijuana from Canada through their town. For the brats committing misdemeanors, one call from the sheriff and your mother will know exactly what you did and what punishment to mete out. This is the perfect hideout for a former mobster boss from Brooklyn. Every last penny was spent years ago to pay off the local sheriff to never ask questions again. So when Tony’s Pizza Parlor moved in years ago offering a slice of heaven his cover story was accepted. Inside the establishment a small group of local kids troll around the “pizza by the slice” parlor. Ebony enters from the rear of the store through a maze of Italian flags and banners. The owner Tony Caluccio is a handsome older man with grey hair at his temples and barely their hair on top of his head. His back is hunched over and one arm is cradled in a sling. Ebony whispers “thanks for letting me stop by so late. What happened to your arm?” Tony waves her away “slipped on a damn slice” and he glares at the kids running around the tables “those kids seem to have forgotten where the trash can is since you left.” She smirks “just tell them who the Boss is like you did back in the day.” He grabs a big wooden paddle to retrieve a pizza pie from the oven “I’m hiding out in bum fuck Egypt for a reason kid. Don’t need the hustle or the hassle anymore.” She starts knocking crumbs off of a linoleum table “yeah well can we hurry this up, Mr. Caluccio? I gotta get going soon” He marches over to the table of kids and slams down the pie and yells over “give me another month and I’d make it worth your wild kid. You were my best employee! None of these rats can replace you.” The table of kids cringe away from Tony’s evil eye but still manage to grab a slice of pizza. “I wish I could afford a graduation present, but…” he looks around the almost empty parlor. Ebony pops open the register and grabs some cash “no worries. I just need –” Tony says “Now hold on. We’re cool but not that cool!” She counts out the cash at warp speed and surveys the pizzas “what happened? There’s only fifty-two bucks here. You always make eighteen pies since it’s your lucky number.” Tony spits out “luck is what you ask for at night, and then you wake up to a shit storm in the morning. But you? You should go to college. You should go to college. My eyesight might be failing me, but I know a damn genius when I squint at her.” He blinks his eyes rapidly and gives her a yellow tooth grin. Ebony rolls her eyes and spit out “I wish! They called but I never bothered answering. More important things to take care of now that I’ve earned my freedom from the state.” Tony cringes “well just don’t move down the road to trouble. Your parents mean well even if they are assholes.” Ebony stiffens. Tony, “she’s doing the best she can kid! But that loser of a husband lost his best a long time ago.” She smiles and takes a ten-dollar bill then hands the rest back to Tony. “Look take my number”, he snatches a pen and paid off of a shelf of knick knacks. She protests but he crams a piece of paper into her hand. With old Tony determination with a spark of evil intent “if anyone messes with you, call your man Tony. My connections run deep and that well never runs dry.” She walks away smiling “whatever old man. I have to go finish packing and say goodbye to the folks. Give them hell Tony!” Ebony eyes the Customers in the parlor for a beat then backs out of the parlor the same way she always entered it.
A red light flashes steadily in the distance. Bicycle wheels come into view under a barely lit street lamp. The spoke on the front wheel has a Queen of Diamond playing card that clickety clacks steadily down a line of one story homes. Ebony, now dressed in civvies and carrying a one shoulder backpack, has arrived at her foster home. She manhandles her bike and ditches it on the front lawn then walks across the pampered yard filled with roses and sunflowers. A cobblestone walkway that has seen better days leads to a wide wooden front porch. Ebony jogs up the front stairs and the neatness of the home fades away quickly to reveal a chink in the picturesque homes armor. The wood has split in various places and the paint has begun to chip on the front porch. Winter is brutal in this part of the state so the wood buckles easily once moisture has set in. A sealant from the Home Depot could have salvaged the porch years ago but just like most things in this town, you only care for things when you care for yourself. There is a wooden door that the homeowners retrieved from an antique shop down the road. Years ago it was the nicest door on the block but just like the occupants inside there are jagged slices where whole chunks has been removed showing the wood grain in the withered oak. The couple who occupy home keep breaking each other and keep knitting the pieces back together; mostly in the wrong place. To the right of the door is a white and now rusted wrought iron swing hanging lopsided onto the floor. She goes up on her tiptoes to peer through the broken glass at the top of the door. In the living room her foster father Lou Mickelson, an overweight white man in boxers, is asleep on a plush leather recliner in front of a large television. Empty beer cans abound. Next to Lou is his wife Esther Mickelson, a fragile former prom queen, now in her mid-40s. She squints through a bruised and blackened eye at the beauty commercial airing on the television. She lifts a trembling hand to her face and rubs absently at the wrinkles on her face. Her mouth is also bloodied and her chair isn’t plush but a cheap folding chair found in the dumpster at Tony’s Pizza. Weeks ago, Ebony hoisted the chair onto her back and rode her bicycle one handed to deliver the gift to her foster mother. To try and bring some comfort to a woman who is constantly beaten and battered by her drunkard husband.
Ebony slips through the front door. She catches Esther’s eye who manages a weak smile. Lou stirs in his drunken stupor, but doesn’t awaken. Ebony takes the stairs two at a time like she is being chased by an entity. No looking back just pumping legs and arms to move forward and away. She glides into her bedroom out of breath and turns on a small desk lamp. The room is covered in posters of Lil’ Wayne, Alicia Keys and Will Smith in his latest action film. Esther tiptoes into the room and whispers “you got everything packed, sweetie?” Ebony digs into the back of her closet and pulls out a shoebox. It’s full of photos, letters, memorabilia and a fat roll of money. She empties the contents of the shoebox into her backpack. The two women stand in silence for a beat until Ebony addresses the woman who has raised her for the past decade “did you get in touch with my mom? She’s expecting me, right?” Shadows play across Esther’s face as she stares out the window. “Don’t you worry, it’s all going to turn out perfect. No more ward of the state. No more of a lot of things.” Esther says. Ebony wipes at her face and shuffles her feet from side to side. How do you ask the damsel in distress to run away with you? Ebony can’t bring herself to convince Esther to leave her home for an unknown adventure of potential chaos. To come back home with her to a place she can barely even remember. The only memories are the nightmares she’s endured over the years waking up in the middle of the night only to fall sobbing to the floor. She’s now old enough and strong enough to face those demons and get answers to all her questions. Even the painful ones. Ebony justifies in her mind that she will come back one day to save this woman. Esther leans in to give Ebony a hug but she recoils. Hugs no longer bring her comfort and besides it’s not goodbye but farewell until they meet again. She makes her way down the stairs and out the front door as the sudden roar of an over-exaggerated laugh track fills the house. Behind her the door closes in silence.
The door opens on a packed subway train in New York City. Its way after midnight but so many people are on the train that it resembles rush hour on a week day. It’s the city that never sleeps where the lights are always on and the people are shell shocked. Passengers sway back and forth in silence to the rhythm of the speeding train. The train screeches and screams through the tunnel and no one reacts. A homeless man gives a five minute spiel on his hardship and no one reacts. Ebony sits across from an attractive young Hispanic Man. She smiles and asks “you know which train goes to Flatbush?” The man glances at his wristwatch “Its 2 A.M. Why you want to go to Brooklyn?” Her smile fades at his abruptness, “I got family there. What’s it to you?” The train lurches to a stop. Five rowdy black teenage girls enter the car but fall silent when they notice Ebony and her backpack. The Hispanic man can sense the tension. He shifts in his seat and leans toward Ebony “get off at this stop and take the A train across the platform.” She eyes the doors “right here?!” He waves her away and points to the platform with urgency “yes little mama. Hurry up and go!” She jumps off the train as the doors close but behind her, the doors are pried open. The five young girls file out and head toward her on the platform. The Hispanic man glares helplessly as the train pulls away from the station. The girls now surround Ebony. A short petite girl chomping down on a big ass piece of bubble gum yells “hit that bitch!” Through the air a brass knuckle ringed fist flies through the air and connects with Ebony’s face. Her backpack is stripped away and a tall unshapely girl points at the tunnel “quick! A train’s coming!” Ebony flails her arms in defense and the young girls scatter down a flight of nearby stairs. She gives chase but stumbles to the ground. A piece of glass cuts into her leg and a carnal scream erupts from her “NO! Give me back my damn money!” Blood begins to pour out of her wound and she passes out.
Rats scurry around freely in the hallway of a rundown building painted a horrid filthy green. The little beasts are being chased down the hallway by two little boys who scream and laugh enjoying their game of Manhunt. Usually Manhunt is played with a group of kids outside who countdown from ten and then are on the hunt to find each other. It’s a step above Hide and Seek, more along the lines of Cops and Robbers. But in this game you can actually get beat up once discovered depending on how many bullies are in on the game. The little boys are oblivious to the actual rules of Manhunt deciding to make the Rats their partners in crime. Suddenly a man and woman slam through the exit door of a piss infested staircase covering their noses. Woman glares at her man “so this is what you told my momma was paradise? Moving in with your fucking daddy and having me clean up after ya’ll asses.” She storms down the hall followed closely by her boyfriend who shakes his head in disbelief. “You wasn’t saying all that when I told you I love my motherfucking wife. Now you high and mighty!? I lost my house messing around with your trifling…” the pair slam into a nearby apartment and the heavy metal door muzzles their voices. The little boys snicker and continue chasing the rats. A bloody hand reaches up and knocks on Apartment 613.
Part 2 to come….. Thanks for reading!
Image source: http://geeknation.com/search/The+African+Queen/