With Mike Black out of the business and Bobby Ray being semi-retired, Freeze now had complete control of the New York operation. Black put Freeze in charge of Cuisine, a small supper club that offered fine dining, an intimate atmosphere, and a small dance floor. It featured Que, a jazz combo with a female vocalist. Until Freeze took over, that is. With Freeze running the supper club, what was an intimate atmosphere had begun to change when Freeze began conducting business there. More and more of Freeze’s “business associates” began to frequent the establishment to pay Freeze. They would hang out, have some drinks maybe, but not much else.
Travis entered Cuisine along with Jackie and Ronnie. Usually he went there alone, since he knew that Freeze didn’t like the way Ronnie carried it, and was frustrated by Jackie, who didn’t have any interest in giving him any pussy. This time, however, he wanted to get it over with. Besides, Freeze needed to be made aware of the issues they had encountered just in case it became a problem.
“Can I help you?” the hostess asked.
“I’m here to see Freeze,” Travis said and smiled at her. She picked up three menus and they followed her.
“I’ll let Freeze know you’re here,” she said as she led them to a table.
“Wait a second. Don’t be in such a rush. Don’t you remember me? Travis? We talked about a month ago,” he said as she seated them. “Your name is Diane, right?”
“That’s right, it is. And I do remember you,” Diane replied and cut her eyes.
“So, what’s up?”
“Nothing,” Diane said coldly as she walked away.
“Damn, it’s like that?” Travis asked, but Diane simply kept going without a word.
“She just cold dissed you, Tee,” Jackie said.
“Whatever, Jackie. I’ve been dissed by finer women than her and in better places than this. She’s not the first woman to dis me, and she damn sure won’t be the last,” Travis said as the waitress arrived.
“Can I get you something from the bar?”
“Hennessey straight up all around,” Ronnie ordered. She disappeared to get their drinks. “So, this is the house that Mike Black built? It really is a nice spot, Travis. Nothing like what I thought it would be.”
“Yeah, but it’s changed a lot since Black’s been gone.”
The changes in clientele and atmosphere brought with them a significant decline the club’s revenue. This fact did not go unnoticed by Wanda Moore, the organization’s lawyer and business manager. She handled the money, making smart investments, and made the members of the organization a ton of money over the years.
Wanda entered Cuisine and looked around at the half-empty club. She shook her head and went off in search of Freeze. As Wanda walked by, she stopped and looked in Travis’s direction. Travis waved to her, but Wanda just rolled her eyes and continued her search.
“Who is that fine ass muthafucka there, Travis?” Ronnie asked.
“If you fuck up on a job again, you’ll be spending a lot of time with her,” Travis advised.
“What you talkin’ about?”
“That’s Wanda Moore.” Ronnie and Jackie both looked at Travis with questioning eyes. “She our lawyer.”
“Oh,” they both said as they watched Wanda walk away.
Wanda made her way around the club and found Freeze seated at a table in the back. She should have known where to find him. Freeze always sat in the back of anyplace he went, and always with a clear view every door. That way he could see who was coming in and would have time to respond if it became necessary to do so.
“Yo, what’s up, Wanda? Have a seat.”
“Stand up, Freeze,” Wanda commanded. Freeze took a deep breath and complied with her request. “Look around this place. Do you see anything wrong with this picture?”
“It’s a little empty. But it’ll pick up later in the evening.”
“I’ve been looking at the numbers for the last few months. Revenue has been steadily going down since you took over.”
“It has?” Freeze asked. “I hadn’t noticed that.”
“Well, you need to start payin’ attention to what’s goin’ on in here,” Wanda demanded.
“All right, Wanda. I got it. But like I said, it picks up later in the evening.”
“What do you mean later in the evening?”
“I mean later. You know, a time that comes after now.”
“I don’t think you’re understanding me, Freeze. This is a supper club, not some after hours spot. There are supposed to be people in here having dinner. And what are all these thugs doin’ up in here?”
“They’re just some of my peeps come to hang for a minute, that’s all.”
“This is not that type of place, Freeze. This is not the Late Night; this is not a thug hang out. We are marketing to a different, more upscale clientele here, Freeze, not to the people you do business with. And who the hell is that no-singin’ bitch you got on stage?”
“That’s-” Freeze started to say, but Wanda cut him off.
“I don’t give a fuck who she is. Fire her no-singin’ ass tonight. The next time I come in here I better see Que back up on stage and Angela Gray up there singin’ her ass off. And you need to tell all your thug buddies that they can’t come up in here without a suit,” Wanda said and paused.
“Freeze, you’re doing a great job running the organization, but I think Black made a big mistake leaving you in charge of this place. But this is where he wants you, so that’s that. Just try to understand this is Black’s baby. He worked very hard to make something of this place. He left you to run it for him. Not me, not Bobby; he left it to you to run for him, Freeze. So please, don’t disappoint him. He and I both expect you not to run it into the ground. Am I getting through to you?”
“Yeah, Wanda, damn. I understand what you’re sayin’,” Freeze said quietly. He didn’t like being punked like that by anybody, not even Wanda. But he knew she was right, so he didn’t push it.
“And isn’t that your buddy, the high-tech wannabe robber?”
“Yeah, what about him? He got a suit on, don’t he?”
“That’s not the point. What’s he doing in here, Freeze?”
“He came to give me my taste of the job he ran today.”
“Freeze, you can’t do business in here or Impressions or any other legitimate business we got. Meet them anywhere but here,” Wanda said as she started to walk away. “And Freeze, you need to start wearing a suit when you’re here.”
Wanda stopped and turned around. She walked back toward Freeze. “I heard that Nick was back in the city. Have you seen him?”
“Just wondering why he hasn’t been around to see anybody,” Wanda answered.
“You know as well as I do, maybe even better than I do why Nick ain’t been around, Wanda,” Freeze said and sat back down at his table. “Don’t play dumb. You know Nick ain’t been around cause of that shit with him and Bobby.”
“Well, if you see or talk to him, tell him to call me,” Wanda requested.
As Freeze watched Wanda walk away he said, “Yeah, right. I’m sure Nick is just dyin’ to talk to your shit-talkin’ ass.” Diane came toward his table.
“Excuse me, Freeze. Travis is here to see you. Do you want me to show him to the office?”
“No, that’s all right, Diane. I’ll go over there and talk to him.” Freeze paused for a second. “One more thing, Diane. Start enforcing the old dress code. I’ll make sure you have security up there to back you up.”
“You’re the boss,” Diane said and walked away.
Freeze got up and walked toward the table where Travis was sitting. “What’s up, y’all?” Freeze said as he took a seat.
“What’s up, Freeze?” Travis reached in his coat for the envelope containing the money he had for Freeze.
“No,” Freeze said quickly in anticipation of what Travis was about to do. “Meet me at Cynt’s in two hours. We’ll talk there. And from now on, when you need to see me, call me and I’ll tell you when and where to meet me. Understood?” Freeze said and moved on to the next table.
“What’s up with that?” Ronnie asked.
“How should I know?” Travis replied. “We’ll just meet him at Cynt’s in two hours. I’m sure you two won’t mind, since that’s probably where y’all were goin’ anyway. Spend some of that money. I know it’s burnin’ a hole your pockets,” he said as he got up and started for the door.
“Shit, like that wasn’t where you were goin’,” Jackie said as she followed Travis and Ronnie to the door.
Four hours later, Freeze still hadn’t arrived at Cynt’s, and it really didn’t seem to matter. Cynt’s was the kind of place where you went to escape. Cynt’s was the kind of place where you went to indulge all of your passions, no matter what they were. You could be or do anything you wanted, as long as it didn’t hurt or bother anybody. Liquor, gambling, and of course, you could experience the pleasures of the women in the house. Cynt’s was a place where fantasies did come true.
Travis sat at a table in the corner of the room where Freeze always sat when he was at Cynt’s. While he waited for Freeze to arrive, a dancer who called herself Mystique was entertaining Travis. She was a tall woman with beautiful, dark eyes and deep caramel skin. Travis had never noticed her on any of his other visits to Cynt’s, although she’d been there every time. He sat, watching her dance, and losing himself in the seductive movements of her hips.
He couldn’t escape the thought that their run was over and it was time to get out. Mistakes on the job, Murray holding out on the money, and now Freeze wanting to talk. No matter how he turned it, it still came up the same way. Travis was sure of what the flaws were in his plan. First off, he confirmed what he already knew: he never created a contingency plan if anything went wrong in the store. It wasn’t the tight timeline, it was his failure to plan for the manager having a weapon, and his lack of contingency planning once the alarm was triggered.
There was one other factor that Travis had to consider. Had he given Ronnie too many crucial responsibilities in the execution of the job? Jackie had only one primary responsibility, secure the objective, whereas Ronnie had several tasks to complete that were vital to the successful execution of the job. Ronnie had to disable the security cameras, disarm and immobilize the security guard, and disable the security system. And after all that, Ronnie still had to cut and remove the glass and remove the pieces without triggering the alarm.
Why did he assign Ronnie all the vital responsibilities? Was he putting too much on Ronnie? Knowing Ronnie’s personality, was it more than he could handle? Maybe it was only because Jackie was a better getaway driver. Or maybe he didn’t think Jackie could handle the responsibilities. He wondered if he should create contingency plans that allowed for Ronnie’s adrenaline junky personality.
Ronnie was right about one thing: Travis was beginning to second-guess himself. And that wasn’t good.
“Yo, Travis!” Jackie yelled, snapping Travis out of the trace that his thoughts and Mystique had placed him in.
“Where this nigga at?” Jackie inquired. “We been around here all this time and Freeze still ain’t showed.”
“So, you in a hurry or something?”
“If you got something to do, then bounce and go handle it. But it’s all good here in this little corner of the world,” Travis said to Jackie without taking his eyes off Mystique as she continued to move her body.
Jackie looked at Mystique, who cast her spell upon her as well. “Yeah, I see,” she said slowly. “But check this out. Me and Ronnie were talkin’ about havin’ a little set this weekend. You know, throw some meat in the grill, invite some ladies over. We’ll be sure to invite this lovely lady here if you want. You down?”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m for all that.”
“Good,” Jackie said as she got up to go to the gambling area. “’Cause it’s your turn, so the party’s at your house. Cool?”
“Like I said, whatever,” Travis said and lost himself in Mystique once again.
It wasn’t too long after that when Freeze appeared before him. “Mind if I join you?” Freeze asked as he took a seat next to Travis.
“This is your spot. I was just keepin’ it warn until you got here,” Travis answered.
“Yo, Mystique. Why don’t you give us a minute?”
“No problem, Freeze,” Mystique said as she picked up her clothes and disappeared into the crowd.
“You got something for me?” Freeze asked, holding out his hand.
Travis handed Freeze the envelope. “It’s only twelve-five. Murray nutted up on me.”
“That’s what I need to talk to you about. During the job, Ronnie accidentally tripped an alarm and we had to deal with a couple of rental cops.”
“Any police action?”
“Yeah, that too. They followed us away from the scene, but Jackie lost them. Anyway, Murray heard about the gun-play and the police involvement and told me that the stuff from inside the store would be harder to get rid of because of that.”
“Did he come correct on the diamonds?”
“All that was cool. And I was able to get a little more from him on store items.”
“Murray’s a slippery fuck, but he’s right. Nobody in town is gonna want to fuck with the shit from the store.”
“That’s what he said. Said he’d have to sell them outside the country. But I wanted you to know about the police involvement just in case anything came of it.”
“I’ll let my people know what’s up. But you, Travis, you need to start keepin’ a tighter reign over that wild-ass nigga Ronnie. He gonna get y’all killed one day.”
“I can handle Ronnie, Freeze. You don’t have to worry about him,” Travis insisted, even though he had the same thought. “I got him.”
“Make damn sure that you do. ’Cause if one of his wild man stunts puts this organization or me in jeopardy, I’ll kill him myself. Believe that.
“Now, what I just said, it ain’t got nothing to do with you. I got nothing but respect for you. You’re a smart man and you’re runnin’ a tight operation, but that nigga is dead weight on the ship.”
“I hear what you’re sayin’, Freeze. But me and Ronnie go too far back for me to cut him loose. Not over no little shit like this.”
“I appreciate you being loyal to the muthafucka. Loyalty is important, especially in this game. We value loyalty above all else. Just make sure you got him in check or I’ll do it for you. That’s all I’m sayin’. But like I said, understand that won’t have anything to do with you. It’s just business.”
“I understand,” Travis said and looked over at the table where Ronnie was sitting. He watched as Ronnie got up and followed one of the dancers away from the table. Travis lost sight of him in the crowd.
“But for now, relax. Enjoy all of the pleasures that the house got to offer.” With that, Freeze raised his hand and snapped his finger. Not only did Mystique return to the table, three other dancers also responded to Freeze’s motion.
“Do four women always come when you call?” Travis asked and Freeze laughed.
“Travis, when I snap my finger, everybody woman in the house who ain’t dancin’ is coming ’cause they know somebody, if not all of them, are about to get paid.” Freeze turned to the dancers. “Ladies, take care of my friend here. I mean take real good care of him,” Freeze said as he stood up and saw that Bobby Ray had come into the club. “If there’s anything you need, Travis, anything at all, you let me know. I need to go holler at Bobby for a minute,” he said and walked away.
After Freeze disappeared into the crowd, the dancers converged around Travis. Mystique looked at the other three dancers and shook her head. She started to walk away when Travis grabbed her hand. “Where you going?”
“I don’t compete. I’m a private dancer. But I know they gotta do what Freeze says. So, enjoy yourself. I’ll be back when I have your undivided attention.”
The other three dancers continued to do their thing while Travis watched Mystique walk away. She had definitely had gotten his attention.
Jackie quickly joined Travis. “You can’t have a show like this without me.”
Travis pointed at one of the dancers and motioned for her to dance for Jackie. She smiled seductively at Jackie and complied immediately. Jackie leaned toward Travis. “You handle your business with Freeze?”
“What did he want to talk to you about?”
Travis looked at Jackie for a long moment before answering, “Loyalty.”
“Loyalty? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing major, Jackie. He was just stressin’ that loyalty is important to us in what we’re doin’, that’s all.”
“True, but that ain’t something he gotta stress to us. Nobody more loyal to each other than the three of us.”
Travis looked at Jackie and wondered whether he should tell Jackie what Freeze said about killing Ronnie. He also thought about whether he could actually stand by and let Freeze kill one of his two closest friends and not do anything about it just because it was business. He didn’t know, and he didn’t want to think about it. Travis would just have to keep Ronnie in check.
“Where’s Ronnie?” he asked.
“He’s either upstairs gettin’ his freak on or downstairs losin’ all his money,” Jackie advised.
“I’m surprised to see you up here for this long. You ain’t been downstairs all night.”
“I got too much cash money on me right now for me to go down there,” Jackie admitted.
“You afraid you could lose it all?”
“Not all of it. I hope I’m not that far gone to go out like that. But trust me; it’s better this way.”
“Count off what you’re willing to lose and give me the rest. I’m gettin’ ready to go.”
Jackie counted off ten thousand dollars and looked at Travis, then at the money in her hand. Travis knew her gambling was getting worse. Jackie handed the rest of her money to Travis.
“Who’s that Freeze is going to talk to?” Jackie asked.
“That’s Bobby Ray.”
“You know him?”
“I wouldn’t say I know him. I met him once.”
“What about Mike Black? You ever met him?” Jackie asked excitedly.
“Nope. I seen him once, but I never met him.”
“What’s he like?”
“I don’t know. Like I said, I only saw him that one time. But I will tell you this: he don’t look like the kinda nigga you wanna fuck with,” Travis said as he got up from the table. “Look, Jackie, I’m out. I think I’ll just drive for a while. I need to clear my head.”
“Where you goin’, to your house in Connecticut?”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ll be back on Saturday. You just make sure that Mystique is there.”
“Done. I’ll see you when you get back.”
Freeze walked up to Bobby, who was standing at the bar talking to Sammy. “What’s up, Bobby? What brings you out tonight? I know Black ain’t in town, is he?”
“No, Mike ain’t in town. I just wanted to check on how things are going. I been to all the other houses tonight.”
“And?” Freeze asked with a bit of a bite. That was the second time that night somebody had been checking on how he was running things in Mike Black’s absence, and he didn’t like it.
“Everything is running just the way it could be,” Bobby said with a smile. “Yeah, Wanda called me.”
“What she say?”
“That maybe I needed to be more active in the business. She said that you were runnin’ Cuisine into the ground. Is she right?”
“She made her point and I moved to correct the situation,” Freeze replied.
“That’s good enough for me. Look, Freeze I ain’t got no problem with the way you do your thing. I think you’ve been good for business. But you know how Wanda is, right?”
“So, until you hear me or Mike say, ‘Freeze, you’re fuckin’ up, just do you,” Bobby said. He held up the glass in his hand and Sammy quickly refilled it.
“Did you know Nick was back in the city?” Freeze asked.
“Yeah, Mike mentioned that to me.”
“Don’t you think it’s time to lay that Camille shit to rest?”
Bobby stared at Freeze for a second or two. He didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it and he never liked being reminded of it. “Don’t you think you should stay out my business?” Bobby asked as one of the dancers walked by him and Freeze.
“Hey, Freeze,” she said as she passed and touched his face. She was dressed in a black cat suit with a small tail and mask to match. She was about five foot three and at best she weighed 110 pounds.
Bobby watched her as she approached somebody at the bar and started talking. “Who is that?”
“That’s Cat. She just started workin’ here a couple of weeks ago. Cynt says words can’t describe the way she dances. Said it’s something you just have to experience.”
“I’d be interested to see,” Bobby said.
“I can arrange that,” Freeze said. “Yo, Cat!”
Cat excused herself from the person she was talking to and stepped toward Freeze. “What’s up, Freeze?”
“Cat, I want you to meet somebody. This is-”
“Bobby Ray,” Cat said as she stepped closer to Bobby. “I’ve been wanting to meet you for a long time.”
“Really? And why is that?” Bobby asked.
“Because powerful men turn me on,” Cat said and grabbed his hand.
Freeze laughed as he watched Cat lead Bobby upstairs to the private rooms. “That’s how the trouble always begins.”