Night didn't notice the first Kawasaki Ninja in his rearview mirror as his black Explorer cruised Brooklyn's Belt Parkway toward Manhattan. He was too busy savoring a fantasy of his own making. Only a few years ago Night was a professional boy toy for lonely widows and aging ladies, his body a commodity enjoyed in the privacy of pricey condos and high-end hotels.
That was another life. Sitting behind the wheel of his ride Night listened to a CD made off the sound board of last night's concert in Atlanta. Screams of black women filled his ears, along with the sound his voice, crooning smoothly through the R. Kelly produced and penned ballad "When Darkness Falls."
As he luxuriated in his voice Night glanced over at Tandi Lincoln, sleeping sweetly in the passenger seat. She was a striking cinnamon lass with curly bronze hair and the well-maintained skin of a pampered black American princess. Years ago she'd dumped Night when she'd been advised of his old profession by a playa hater. Losing Tandi had always tugged at his heart, so when celebrity arrived (via his record deal) Night worked diligently to woo her back. There were plenty of women available for a dark chocolate R&B love man, but Night's gigolo days made him jaded about women, sex, and all the accompanying bull. Tandi had vibed him when he had nothing and no one, and he needed the assurance of that kind of love. For the gig at the Fox Theater, Night had flown her down to Atlanta, a city that was home base to one of the nation's finest collections of African-American women, a gesture to demonstrate to her (and himself too!) how important she was to him. After the gig they'd gone back to the Four Seasons and, with the conviction of a woman who knew she was adored, Tandi had loved the singer so intensely they'd almost missed their flight home the next afternoon.
He glanced out of the driver's-side window toward Coney Island, where the Wonder Wheel floated cars through the Brooklyn sky as it had for decades. As a child Night had taken the D train out to Coney Island to lie on its eroding, crowded beach and indulge in bad fried food. It was another blast from his past, years of poverty and hunger and anxiety. He thought of his mother's death and his father's belligerence and the uncertainty of his youth. When you were poor and black, he mused, you never knew what the fuck could happen next. You never felt in control of anything — least of all your life. He squeezed the wheel of his big, sturdy ride, happy that was all finally behind him.
Night only really paid attention to the first Kawasaki Ninja after he passed Coney Island. The bike and the driver's helmet were white and lime green. On his body was a lime-colored, leather Rocawear tracksuit. The biker weaved his way through the light late-night traffic until he was abreast of Night's car. Night thought the driver just wanted to drag race, which would have intrigued him if Tandi wasn't in the ride. As this thought amused Night, little groups of Japanese-style motorcycles began appearing in his rearview mirror. First he spied three. Then there were five. Then four more. By the time Night's Explorer cornered the tip of Brooklyn and was in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge, there were fifteen bikes either beside or behind Night.
Obviously this was one of those ghetto bike clubs that had popped up since DMX featured the Rough Ryders club in one of his videos. All summer long these posses roared through the city, intimidating drivers fearful of the futuristic funk these motorized gangs represented.
Night wasn't afraid — not really. But he was becoming real concerned. If any of these untrained, risk-taking fools somehow jammed into his car, Night, the one with the money and visibility, would take the weight. Any accident or, God forbid, a smashup would automatically be his fault. Next to him a bike popped a wheelie. One kid stood up on his bike and did a handstand while rolling at sixty miles per hour down the Belt Parkway. Night attempted to maneuver his way out of the pack but found that instead of giving him space, the pack grew tighter around him. The green-suited biker accelerated a bit and moved right in front of his ride and dangerously close to his front bumper. Night pressed the center of his steering wheel and beeped loudly. The lead biker beeped back, closely followed by the horns of the other fourteen bikers in a frightening, sardonic chorus.
The blaring horns woke Tandi and, looking out of the window, she immediately saw that Night's SUV was stuck in a cornfield of Japanese motorcycles. "What's going on, Night?" she asked.
"Just some hip-hop bike motherfuckers," he replied dismissively. "They just making some noise. They got nothing better to do."
The lime-green biker slowed down, forcing Night to reluctantly decelerate. Two of the bikers on the driver's side began driving dangerously close to him, while the bikes on the passenger side slid over to the right, creating a narrow passageway. They wanted Night to move to his right, which was precisely why he didn't do it.
"You think they're fans, Night?" Tandi asked innocently.
"That's probably it," he told his Tandi, trying to downplay his own anxiety. Night knew they weren't. The women who bought his records drove Saabs, not Kawasaki Ninjas. Besides, he'd kept his windows up and he doubted they could see through his tinted windows in highway light. But this was an expensive ride, so he might have just been the wrong SUV on the wrong highway on the wrong night. He'd let his driver go home at JFK, happy to be driving himself again after three months of riding in tour buses, limos, and jeeps around the country. Now he was contemplating pushing the pedal to the floor and blasting his way through the bikes before things got serious. But he'd thought too long.
There was a loud tap on the driver's-side window. Night turned and found the long barrel of a Desert Eagle automatic aimed at his face.
"Oh, my God!" Tandi cried as Night struggled to keep his emotions under control. The biker with the gun motioned with it for Night to roll down his window. Night, frightened into obedience, followed instructions.
"Next exit!" The voice was low-pitched but female — definitely female.
"Night," Tandi screamed, "don't do as they say! Keep driving straight!"
"No, boo, it'll be all right. It's just a carjacking. They'll take the ride and we'll be all right. Just keep it together and we'll be all right." Night's voice was as calm as he could make it, but his heart was beating double time. Led by the lime-green biker, Night guided his car toward an exit for Red Hook, a section of Brooklyn with waterfront warehouses that was, at night, dreary and relatively isolated.
For the first time in several miles Night noticed that the CD of his performance was still playing. He heard himself seducing several thousand willing women. It was the voice of a man in complete control of his environment. It was a beautiful illusion that he suddenly had to let go of. He clicked off the CD player, took a deep breath, and followed the lime-green biker down the exit ramp.
Copyright © 2004 by Nelson George