Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

“...Why not you?”
-Wallace McCoy

Willie Dixon’s Uptown Bar and Grill has been a neighborhood mainstay for as long as anyone can remember. It’s been said that the Dixon family has owned it for at least 4 generations. People come and go in the neighborhood, but Willie’s remains.

On Tuesday nights they have an all you can eat crab feed that could knock your socks off with well drinks starting at $1.50. Wednesday and Thursday nights are cards and darts. If you’re lucky, you can catch old man Willie on the rare occasion when he comes out of retirement and kicks asses in a fierce game of Bid Whisk. The fried chicken and catfish are so good that if you get there after nine o’clock – you’re shit out of luck. Fridays and Saturdays are for karaoke. Locals line the walls and fill the bar stools waiting to watch friends and family entertain, and in some cases make total fools of themselves. But it’s all right if they do, because everybody knows everybody and knows things far worse about each other than who can or can’t sing.

It was on one of these Friday nights that the lives of two men would cross one another again and would forever seal the fates of both of them.

It was on this night that the crowd was entranced by the voice of a middle-aged light-skinned man with salt and pepper hair. Slight in build and short on teeth, the man sang in one of the smoothest falsettos anyone had heard in those parts in a long time. No one had sung like that in their neighborhood since LJ Reynolds of the Dramatics had dropped by in 1975 and sang Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones’ to a star-struck crowd. The man on stage this night sang a rendition of Eddie Holman’s 1960’s classic “Hey There Lonely Girl”. Note for note it was dead on the original.

At the end of the song the bar patrons dropped their drinks and gave the man a standing ovation. Humbled, the man silently nodded in thanks to the crowd. With a raspy voice stained with a shot of Hennessy and scarred by cigarette smoke the man thanked the crowd, “Thank you brothers and sisters. You make me feel so good inside, the Lord has blessed me this evening to be able to spend time with you, I hope you don’t mind if I sing another song for you. Do you mind if I take you back in time again?”

Enthusiastically the crowd yelled back ‘Yeah’ as the man turned to the deejay to request his next song. Just then the familiar drum roll of the Motown classic ‘Ooh Baby, Baby’ by Smokey Robinson exploded through the speakers. Everyone was smiling as the man closed his eyes while slipping into his smooth falsetto. Everyone but one troubled man seated at the bar.

The Hennessy-stained voice sounded so eerily familiar to the man at the bar, that immediately upon hearing it he was jolted from his seat like it had been shook by an earthquake. Slowly he rose up from his bar stool to get a better look at the face of the owner of the Hennessy-stained voice. Bobbing and weaving side to side he was able to see his way through the crowd of heads while getting a better look at the man. Half way to the front he was stopped dead in his tracks by the man’s face. His heart sped up to a full gallop.

At that instant his body was overcome by feelings of shock and anger. He knew exactly who that man was. As he looked in the bar mirror at his own face and remembered how smooth his youthful and boyish- looking face had been some 22 years before, his fingers ran along the scar that stretched from his left eyebrow, to the bridge of his nose, under his right eye, across his high cheekbone to his right ear.

Somberly he recalled the events to himself that had disfigured him in his youth. His wounds had healed; yes, but some wounds never go away. Like the one in your heart from missing your best friend because you know he isn’t coming back. The warmth of a lonely tear caressed his cheek and dripped into his mouth, where the salt from the teardrop dissolved onto his tongue.

He knew the man as McCoy – McCoy Wallace, but at that time McCoy had been an angry Vietnam veteran home from the war with an axe to grind with the world. He was an alcoholic. A drug addict. An abusive father and husband, and was known to rob drug dealers.

He, Deon McLove, was an aspiring teen-aged rapper at the time that was on his way to becoming a neighborhood hero. Word back then was that Bobby Robinson from Enjoy Records wanted to sign him. His slim build and boyish face caught the attention of many girls in the area. He had a reputation for being a ‘pretty boy’, this, would help to earn him the wrath of the many jealous ‘hard rocks’ in the area, if not for his best friend Vincent Sotolongo.

Vincent or Vicente` as his mother liked to call him, was a stocky kid with a gap-toothed smile, and fists that were big and battle scarred. He always made it a point to rock a baseball hat slightly tilted to the side to show off his wavy hair. The two of them had been best friends since elementary school and were hard to separate.

The ghostly image across the room awakened a skeleton that had been hiding in the darkest closet of his mind for far too long.

As Deon became the top rapper in his neighborhood, Vincent would be his protection from the crab-asses around the way.

On a cool October night in 1982 they went to check Busy Bee out at the neighborhood Boys and Girls Club. Every rap crew and wannabe knucklehead from within a 15- block radius was there as well. When they got to the jam, the air in the gym was thick and filled with the smell of underarm funk and the pungent aroma of weed smoke. The room was dark except for the lone light that came from the little lamp on the deejay table.

Making their way through the crowd Deon and Vincent headed to the stage. Massive crews of steely-eyed 5 Percenters encircled the gym floor like competing warriors. Stepping through the crowd Deon accidentally bumped into a 5 Percenter wearing a dark hat with big white bold letters that read ‘B GOD’. As the man slowly exhaled the cigarette he was smoking, the cloud of smoke mushroomed above the gym floor. As B God turned to confront him, Vincent stepped between the two to counteract any hostility. Once they approached the ropes they checked out the Bronx’s best, Chief Rocker Busy Bee, who was rocking the crowd while his man, Kool DJ AJ was cutting “Cavern, Cavern” on the wheels of steel.

“Come on shout it out…shout it out, come on 1, 2, 3 uhhh, ya go bom with the bom da bang da bang boogie boogie then you shake your booty to the bang bang boogie. And then ya bom with the bom da bang da bang boogie boogie then ya shake ya booty to the bang bang boogie. I want y’all to say this with me, come on…I’m DJ Bust-a-nut where? (The crowd yelled) In your face and in your butt! At the Alps we work out, at the Alps we work out…

As AJ kept the beat going he would backspin on the thunderous cymbal crash repeating it over and over. Crash…and then cut into the beat using the cymbal c-c-c-c-c-c Crash! The low end of the bass-line vibrated the gym windows and sent the b-boys into a sweat-drenched frenzy.

Stepping out of the hot and funk-filled gym into the cool October night the two laughed about some of the girls they had seen that night. Feeling hungry they headed in the direction of a local liquor store for some snacks and a couple of bottles of Wild Irish Rose. On their way up the block they ran into a local drug dealer named Stevie Dash. Dash, was a brown- skinned skinny guy with a neck full of gold chains and a Caesar haircut. He wasn’t an especially dangerous guy for someone of his trade, but his nervous disposition kind of kept people at bay.

“Yo what it be like fellas?” Dash said as he greeted them both. The two young men explained to him that they were on the way to get a drink and then would be calling it a night. Dash told the pair that he had a tape of a jam that Deon had done two weeks before and that he’d give it to him. The two followed Dash to one his ‘spots’. Uneasy about going to a known drug spot, Deon and Vincent said that they would catch up with him the next day.

“Yo y’all dudes buggin’, ain’t nuttin’ gonna happen to y’all out here. I’ll be right back; all y’all gotta do is stand here just like this.” Dash said as he mockingly folded his arms into a b-boy stance. “Ain’t nobody gonna mess with y’all if y’all just standing here in a b-boy stance.” Dash convinced them.

Clearly uncomfortable about being out of their neighborhood and in front of a known dope spot, Vincent yelled out to Dash. “Yo hurry up in there! I don’t want to be out here all night mother fucker!”

As Dash ran up the stoop into the house he dismissively said, “Yo ski boss, I’ll be right back just chill, goddamnit!”

“Yo man, this nigga here is buggin’,” Deon said as he sucked his teeth and folded his arms. “I mean, I want my tape and shit, but damn, look what a nigga gotta go through for this shit. Standing in front of dope houses and shit…yo wasn’t this one of them spots Frank Matthews or somebody like that had back in the day?”
“Yo shut the fuck up man, you don’t know who’s listening out here.”
“I’m just sayin’ yo man, look at all this shit though.”

Out the corner of his eye he could see a dark figure lurking in the shadows. The figure would peek out periodically from behind a lamppost and then wander over to a house on the corner. Deon wasn’t sure of what he was seeing but he didn’t want to over-react either. The two men continued their conversation all the while Deon kept a lookout for the shadowy figure.

As he sat back down on the stoop Deon adjusted his hat and rubbed his head, when he remembered a new tape he copped, “Hey, I was checking out the Force MC’s the other night at Broadway International right, and they got this new kid on the cut for them named Dr. Shock. Word up man, this kid was nice.”

‘Yo I seen them kids at the Parrot they was all right.”

Just then both men saw the tiny amber glow of a cigarette drop in the dark. Jumping off of the stoop and on to their feet the men were prepared for whatever came their way. The figure that stepped out of the dark was a slim black man in his late 30’s. He wouldn’t have been worth the passing thought if not for the fact that he was wearing dark sunglasses in the middle of the night and an Army fatigue jacket and blue jeans that had seen better days.

The men instantly recognized him as McCoy Wallace a known stick up man and dope-fiend. In a Hennessy and cigarette-smoke stained voice McCoy asked them, “So what y’all doin’ out here?”

Both men shrugged their shoulders and nodded their heads as if to say nothing, but McCoy was having none of that.

“Come on what y’all got for me?” McCoy said while looking at both men with a steely gaze.

“Yo check this out man, we ain’t got nothing to do with nothing you looking for”, said Deon.

“Bullshit, y’all niggas wouldn’t be out here for nothing. Where’s that mother fucker Dash at?”

“Yo man we just hanging out here, why don’t you just move on, you fucking dope-fiend,” said Vincent.

This earned the consternation of the older man. Suddenly he pulled a banana knife out of his jacket pocket and stuck it up to Vincent’s face. “Y’all some suckers, give me the dope AND your money,” yelled the sweating dope fiend.

Deon pleaded with the man to stop, “Ay we got nothing to do with none of this shit, for real, we’re just out here waiting on my man.”

“Empty your pockets, turn them mother fuckers inside out”, commanded McCoy.

Both men emptied the contents of their pockets onto the street: they had a total of $45 between them, two packs of Newport’s and a pair of dice.

“So where y’all hiding the dope?” McCoy quizzed them with the knife still pointed at Vincent’s face.

Scared the two young men protested that they had nothing to do with drugs and that they wanted to leave.

McCoy looked both men in their eyes and with glassy eyes said, “Y’all niggas think ya fooling somebody, but that ain’t working here. Not tonight. See, I seen y’all out here before and you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t belong here.”

A feeling of desperation rushed over the two men; instinctively they lunged at the man going for the hand with the knife. McCoy, a former combat veteran stepped back and kicked at Deon and caught Vincent in the throat as he continued to lunge forward. A gush of blood leaped out of Vincent’s neck splashing all over McCoy and Deon. Stunned, Deon paused to look at his friend; it was at that second that McCoy swung the blade in Deon’s direction slashing the young man across the left eyebrow to his right ear.

Crashing to the ground with a deep burning sensation across his face Deon let out a scream that could’ve awakened the dead. Suddenly, a resident across the street started to go for her window. McCoy hearing the stirring around him kicked Deon in the ribs with the force of a bucking horse.

Between the stinging of the cut on his face and the throbbing pain in his ribs he gasped, “Damn man, what the fuck, why me?”

McCoy dropped down to one knee droplets of blood were dripping from the blade on to the concrete like slow running water from a faucet, looking him dead in the face with rose-colored blood shot eyes and with that gravely voice as low as a whisper he said, “Why not you?”

And with that he walked into the cool midnight and disappeared like a shadow on the sun.

The morning headlines in the New York Post read:


Queens, NY – One man was killed and another slashed in a violent attack near a known drug spot on 178th and Jackson Ave.

Vincent Sotolongo, 19 of Flushing, was found dead in a puddle of blood, the apparent victim of a throat slashing. Also found at the scene was Deon McLove, also 19 and of Flushing, was found a few feet away with a severe slash to the face. Though his injuries are serious he is expected to survive.

A witness who chooses to remain anonymous gave police a description of the alleged perpetrator and an arrest is imminent.

Residents reported hearing an argument at about 1:30 a.m. and then heard a loud scuffle ensue before they heard the sound of “loud footsteps running away from the scene.”

The Sotolongo killing stayed in the papers for the next few weeks.



No member of the McCoy family was present at the trial. His wife of 9 years released this statement through her pastor:

To the Sotolongo and McLove families,

My family and I deeply regret your loss. The man that committed these acts was not the same man I knew before the war. The man I knew before the war was kind and loving and cared about humanity. The man that came home from the war is distant, abusive – both physically and verbally. I hardly know the man that came home from Vietnam, as he would not open up to me, my pastor or any other member of our family.

Once again I deeply regret your loss, my family and I deeply grieve for you.

Yours truly,
Ellen Wallace

The judge handed down a sentence of 10 to 20 years to be served at the Danemora Correctional Facility. To the astonishment of the Sotolongo family he could be paroled in 15 years.

Adjusting to prison life was not hard for McCoy Wallace as he had done two tours of duty in Vietnam and had been a guest at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’, the notorious prison camp in Vietnam that broke the soul of many American soldiers.

What was difficult for Wallace to adjust to was not seeing his kid’s everyday. Though, emotionally distant from them, there was still a part of him, the loving, caring father buried somewhere deep inside of him that needed to see his children. The first few years of his incarceration he cried himself to sleep at night.

Seven years into his sentence Wallace decided to make peace with his inner-demons and Vietnam. He joined a Christians Men Group in Danemora and became an active participant in the group.

As he came to grips with his inner struggle; the images of the atrocities in Vietnam, the images of the faces of Sotolongo and McLove that fateful night, Wallace McCoy got down on his knees daily and begged the Lord for forgiveness.

Very often he would hold pep talks in his cell for other recovering addicts and vets; as he had become an encouraging force to both groups. He continually advised them to stay away from drugs and all other forms of foolishness that they could engage in behind bars. He constantly told them, “Look man, if you shuffle…you deal.”

He would accompany many of them to the prison psychiatrist’s office to discuss their problems. It was during one of these visits that the psychiatrist asked to see Wallace privately. Closing the door and taking a seat the psychiatrist looked at Wallace and said, “So McCoy how long have you been here?”

“I’d say it’s been 15 years now, sir.”

“Well, I’ve been thinking about you, and your progress and I want you to know that I have noticed how far you have come. I wanted to tell you to your face that when it’s time for you to go before the board, I’m going to recommend your release. Now, you better not disappoint me McCoy, I don’t believe you belong here anymore. I find it highly unlikely that you’ll re-offend again. Do you understand?”

In shock McCoy said he understood.

The doctor continued, “McCoy when you leave here I want you to do me one favor.”

“What’s that?” McCoy answered.

“McCoy I want you to promise me that you’ll never come back to this place or any other places like this again. Okay?”

McCoy still in shock nodded in agreement and shook the doctor’s hand. Upon exiting the doctor’s office the euphoria of the moment was swept away when the faces of Sotolongo and McLove flashed in his head. Leaning against the wall to catch his balance, he quietly said a prayer to himself begging the Lord to forgive him for his sins.

When the prison gates were opened the beaming sun blinded him. It was the first time in years that he had smelled air that didn’t have a hint of prison funk. No one greeted him as he left the institution and entered into a new world.

Life for Deon McLove hadn’t fared well. As a youth he was known as a nice kid, but because of his pretty boy looks he was known to be arrogant and cocky. The slash across his face that McCoy had made left both a physical and emotional scar on his psyche. Whereas he was once good-looking and cocky, he was now disfigured and extremely insecure. The rap career he had worked hard to attain disintegrated before his eyes like dust in the wind. He worked two dead-end jobs 6 days a week that barely kept his head above water. Friends and family over the years silently remarked among one another about how much Deon drank. His insecurity about his looks made approaching women very difficult for him so he would often seek the company of prostitutes.

On this night at Willie’s just as he had recognized McCoy Wallace, one of his favorite companions came walking through the door. Her name was Exxxtacy Love; a hustler by trade, she was a stripper, a hair-stylist, massage therapist, mixtape distributor, internet model and escort. Caramel brown and stunningly sexy with arched eyebrows and full lips she carried herself with the confidant demeanor that only a pro could have. With carefully color co-ordinated manicured fingernails and toes, there wasn’t anything about her that was out of place. The tattoos on her arms made the loudest statements about her. On her left arm in big bold letters was her name ‘EXXXTACY LOVE’. On the right shoulder it said ‘Shut Up Bitch’. Inscribed on her neck: ‘The Path I’ve Chosen’.

Walking up on him and planting a light kiss on his cheek, she greeted him with a honey-inflected “Hey baby what’s up?” as she gently maneuvered his arm in the direction of the bar. As she seated herself on the bar stool she opened up her purse to at once drop her cell phone in and take a small mirror out. Looking at herself in the mirror and primping her hair and lips without looking in his direction she said, “Baby, buy me drink.”

Throwing five dollars on the bar he told her to get whatever she wanted as he re-located McCoy in the bar mirror. Grabbing his hat off the counter he pulled it down real low to hide his face.

“So where are we going tonight, baby?” Exxxtacy asked.

Briefly distracted from stalking his prey he said, “I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere.”

Exxxtacy let it all hang out, “Well why not? Shit, I had a lot to do tonight, there was other shit I could’ve been doing instead of coming out here to see your drunk ass.”

“Hey not right now, I got something else to do at the moment,” Deon said as he focused back in on his prey.

Without missing a beat Exxxtacy whirled around on the bar stool and snatched her cell phone out of her purse, flipping it open while walking away saying, “Yeah girl this mark-ass, trick-ass bitch think I got time for games and shit…”

Deon dismissed Exxxtacy and focused in on McCoy. He watched him as he laughed it up with his buddies. Drinking. Laughing. It looked like he had been living well. While Vincent was a decomposed lump of bones 6 feet in the ground.

The jukebox was serenading the crowd with the sweet sounds of R Kelly’s hit ‘Happy People’. Couples young and old danced in the small area, spinning and twirling each other around. He eyed Wallace at a table with a group of friends eating fish and telling loud stories. He decided to wait for him outside. He grabbed an empty bottle of MGD off the bar and headed into the night air. Once outside his heart raced around his chest. He looked around the corner to see if anyone was looking. No one was there. He silently waited in the shadows for McCoy to come outside. Hours passed by before McCoy would leave. In the shadows he wrestled with his conscious. He had never done anything like this before.

When McCoy stepped in to the night air after a night of merriment he had no idea of the fate that awaited him. Smiling to himself while looking for his keys he looked up the block for his car. Walking in the direction of a lone Honda Civic parked under a tree, Deon followed McCoy in the shadows.

When McCoy made it to within feet of his car he heard the loud music from a passing car, and a voice say, “There goes that mother fucker right there, bitch stop the fuckin’ car!”

Turning in the direction of the voice he saw a short, caramel- skinned woman jump out of a shiny black Toyota Camry that came to a screeching halt in the middle of the street. He vaguely recognized the young woman from earlier in the evening. Had it not been for the fact that she was walking really fast and in his general direction, he would’ve dismissed her and minded his own business, but he sensed some type of threat was about to occur.

“Every mother fuckin’ time I see your ass, it’s always some bullshit!” Exxxtacy shouted.

In a panic Deon frantically reached down to his ankle for his holstered .45 caliber gun. As he lifted the gun out of its holster and straightened his body up to take aim, Wallace saw the shadow of the young man that the loud mouth woman was shouting at.

“Ay yo!” The figure said stepping out of the shadow and into the light.

Squinting at first to focus in on the person, McCoy didn’t easily recognize the young man until he got a little closer and saw the scar across his face.

“Oh no!” he said as he was caught in the bulls eye of the barrel.

Throwing himself over the car Wallace slid across the hood as the first shot cracked through the silence of the midnight air. The first shot grazed his back, the second shot missed; the third shot hit him in the ankle. There was a second of silence and then a fourth shot rang out.

Desperately he crawled to the rear passenger tire in an effort to somehow shield himself from the bullets. Looking in the direction of the shooter from underneath the car he saw the young man sprawled out on the asphalt. Somebody shot him.

With his heart pumping a ferocious mix of fear and anger, Deon reached for the gun he dropped after being blasted by one of the people in the car. Fumbling around for his weapon he noticed a bloody faced Exxxtacy Love. One of his shots missed Wallace and hit Exxxtacy in the face. Somebody in the car fired at Deon striking him in the shoulder.

The street was a mass of mayhem. The screeching tires of the shiny black Toyota couldn’t muffle the screams of the injured young woman.

Slowly limping his way to Deon, Wallace scrambled for the gun angrily kicking it away from him. By the laws he learned in the street and his tours in Vietnam, he had every reason to blast this punk’s head all over the sidewalk. Reaching for the gun he felt the cold steel in his sweaty palms. Raising the gun up he had Deon’s face in the crosshair. Every instinct told him to pull the trigger, to end this here and now on this street corner, and disappear to some foreign country somewhere. But regret kicked in. The memory of what he had done before and the promise he made to himself to never cross that line again took precedence over anything he learned on the street. Looking from side to side he took a couple of steps and dropped the gun into the sewer. With his back turned he said, “If you know what’s best for you young blood, you better get in the wind.”

He stared back over his shoulder at the angry young man whose eyes were a blaze of fire while remembering that night. “I’ll never be able to undo the wrong I did to you, and we’ll never be even…but…”

His words were broken by the distant sound of the oncoming police cars.

“Fuck you you fuckin’ piece of shit!”

“Listen to me”, McCoy said quietly while looking in the direction of the sirens, ‘you can spend the rest of your life being mad at me if you wanna. But if you want what’s left of your life to be spent with even an iota of peace – at some point, get the fuck off your ass and into the wind, like I’m about to do.”

As the seconds went by the sirens went from being distant sounds to being a matter of seconds away.

When the patrol cars pulled up the corner was empty. The officers knew they were at the right place because there were puddles of blood all over the asphalt.

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