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Token Black

A Mercury Slim Short Story

True Crime

Two AM Sunday morning, but the usual after midnight crowd at Mitch's bar on Central Avenue didn't stick around on the account that it was the Lord's day. Owned by a man with the same name, Mitch Blake, a former actor who was once a pretty boy in Hollywood, became an aging pretty boy as his star began to diminish, so he left tinsel town to come back home and use his money to open a bar.

The watering hole sat between two future luxury apartment complexes, the type of housing for the young corporate executives. Mitch didn't mind because he knew that it could only be good for business. Inside the bar was like any other bar with stools and tables, with the exception of Hollywood memorabilia hanging on the walls, but it was nothing Mitch had done because he was sentimental that way. He usually shut down the place out of respect for the Lord, but a friend called in a favor, and he obliged.

Mercury asked Mitch to hold the bar open for him and an old high school friend. Mitch didn't ask why; he just said no problem. Mercury peered through the window under the letters spelling "Mitch's Bar." He saw Mitch behind the bar wiping it down, and his old high school chum, Truit Foster. Mercury didn't go inside right away; he studied the man who hired him to solve his nephew's murder.

Mercury saw a man drowning his sorrows, problems, and guilt in hard liquor. Whiskey to be exact—Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker, Wild Turkey. Mercury couldn't tell for now, the bottle was Truit's best friend. Mercury knew some people used the burning beverage as their shrink, and it looked like Truit was telling it all his problems. Mercury waltzed in, nodding to Mitch, who continued wiping down the bar. He made it to Truit, who sat with his back to the door. Mercury got his attention with a tap on the shoulder.

“So... how's therapy?”

Truit held up a half-empty bottle. “I need a longer session,”

Mercury laughed. “Sure you can afford it?” He perched himself onto a seat at the table.

“Any of them white boys confessed to killing my nephew?”

“They're all innocent.” said Mercury.

“That ain't the news I was expecting,”

“Don't blame the weatherman if you don't like the forecast,” said Mercury.

Truit took another sip of whiskey. "Always cool with the words. Some things never change,”

“And some things do,” Mercury remarked.

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“Tyree died with a gunshot to the back of the head. It wasn't close range, wasn't execution style either... the way he fell face down on the ground looked more like he was surprised if you can believe that,”

Truit frowned. “Surprised? What do you mean, surprised?”

“Can't quite put my finger on it, but like he was looking at something—or better yet, somebody told him to look at something—and bang.”

Mercury watched Truit empty the bottle. He motioned to Mitch to bring another and a glass. Mitch set the bottle and glass on the table then went back to his duties behind the bar. Mercury poured Truit and himself a drink.

“You paying for this session?” Truit asked.

“It's the least I can do," said Mercury.

Truit drank then grabbed the bottle and poured himself another.

Mercury nursed his drink. "You ain't drinking just to past time are you?”

“Why else would I be drinking?”

Mercury snorted. “Drinking like that... seems like a man trying to drink away guilt.”

“My nephew's dead, man. You know, some people handle grief differently.”

“Don't I know it.” Mercury nodded. “I remember my father and me watching a football game and there were about twenty cheer leaders...”

Truit's eyes were bloodshot and droopy. “You going somewhere with this?”

“Only one black girl was on the squad and my dad referred to her as a token.”

“Was he saying there should've been more than just one black?'

“You know it.”

“My nephew was a token... but he chose to be around them white people.”

Mercury pursed his lips. “Tyree had a bright future in the corporate world, and from what I heard, he was about to go to grad school. He was the first in your family to graduate college and was setting an example to his younger cousins."

"All of that was taken away...”

Truit grinned. "Told you them damn white boys...”

“His friends were devastated,” said Mercury.

Truit's words began to slur. “Damn shame when a black start actin' white.”

“Some whites act black,” Mercury remarked.

“Say what?”

“Remember that boy back in high school?”

“You talkin' about the white boy dressing black and hanging out with all the black kids?”

“He had jheri-curls, patterned shirts, dress slacks and shirts, all the white kids used to say he needed to be slapped. Despite all that, he went on about his business.”

Truit shook his head. “Still though, you belong with your own kind.”

“What is this the nineteen sixties? Did it bother you that much to see your nephew having white friends?”

“Man, the guys at the barber shop always said to me...” Truit swallowed hard. “Why your nephew think he white, acting white, and talking white?”

Mercury glared. “You need a new barber. Better yet, what's the name of the barber shop you go to because they won't get my service.” He snorted. ”That's what you call ignorance, Truit. And it's not talking white... it's called articulate. Your nephew was articulate.”

Truit shook his head. "Got on my damn nerves.”

“That's why you did it?” Mercury asked.

Truit gave a dubious look through his stretched inflamed eyes. "What the hell you talking about?”

“I've seen you around Tyree, acting like he was an itch you could never scratch.”

“He brought them damn white bitches to family outings.”

Mercury shook his head.”You defiantly in the wrong century. Bi-racial couples go together like macaroni and cheese. If you can't stand bi-racial couples, then you don't like mac and cheese. You were jealous of Tyree...”

Mercury frowned. “Why?”

“I told you, man, hanging around them damn whites... the kind that got in my way.”

“No!” Mercury shook his head. "This day and age only you can hold yourself back. You can't blame anybody else for your shortcomings. If you don't make it in this world, then it's on you. Using the color of your skin for failure is a cop-out. I went to school with you. You might have qualified for trade school, but that would have been a challenge. School is not for everyone, and that's why I went into the military. You should have accepted your weakness and should have been proud of your nephew. He was going to take your family to the next level.”

No police sirens were needed; red and blue strobe lights flashed inside the bar from the outside window. Mercury looked at the bulge in Truit's right pants pocket.

“Put the gun on the table nice and slow,” said Mercury. He motioned toward the bar where Mitch looked more than ready to pull something from underneath if he needed to. Truit did as he was told. Mercury grabbed the .38 special, shaking his head.

“The caliber of bullet that caused the hole in the back of Tyree's head came from this type of gun.” Mercury stared. “He was your nephew.”

Truit nodded. “That's why I hired you. I knew you would help me face my demons. I hope you believe me when I say I did love my nephew, the token black.”

 THE END