A game, that’s all it was. The first man who got the business took care of it. In this life, second chances were rarely a possibility and even if there could be second chances given out, there was no way that those chances were going to come in these parts. A man is born, grows up and goes to school, where he would hear the same song that everyone could be somebody, if they put their minds to it. There was a life beyond those streets, a way out of the ‘hood. All it took was finishing an education and receiving what the government called a diploma and then go to college where a degree could be attained after four to eight more years. That’s what everyone thought life was in this neighborhood. Maybe that’s the way it was in California or one of the southern states, but not in south Queens. Not in Richmond Hill, New York, where the school message was taught the same but it was more perceived as “A life you COULD have but it wasn’t going to happen." You wanted to be a doctor who treated patients and prescribed pills and other forms of medicinal drugs. That was a fantasy. That would never happen in the real world.
Never had this been more painfully true for anyone as it was to Nate Plummer. Born in nearby Jamaica Hospital off Van Wyck Expressway, Nate attended elementary, intermediate, and high school in the New York school system. Attending Richmond Hill High School, Nate was a student who excelled in many different sports, including track and basketball. Standing at six-foot-two with long arms, Nate was one of the most explosive young point guards the school has ever seen. With the ability to control the tempo of the game and the ball-handling skills that only hours of practice at the courts in the park can give a person, Nate was on his way to success. Unfortunately, the one problem that derailed Nate was his poor grades. Although he was dynamic on the court, he was unable to translate that success into the classroom. Nate never wanted to admit that he was never intentionally lazy but Nate never saw the sign-ificance of homework, long assignments, or quizzes day after day, week after week. Nate was averaging a low C average in his classes and that was good enough for him. That’s when the game changed.
At age seventeen, Nate was introduced to the world of drug dealing in the streets of Queens. His favorite dealing corner was the corner of Lefferts Boulevard and 101 Avenue. When he began dealing drugs with his friends, Nate was still attempting to go to school during the day, so he would not draw suspicion from his coach, his teammates or his parents. It went pretty well for a while. Nate’s parents did not permit him to get a job until he graduated high school, which infuriated Nate, because everyone he knew was working at least part time and making a little bit of money. Besides it was hard enough getting home. Nate lived near Francis Lewis Street, which was a little more that forty-five minutes away from Richmond Hill High School. So he had to take two city buses just to get to his street where his small apartment building was located. That was a dollar a day, at least for cab fare, plus Nate wanted to buy his own food once in the while. He just couldn’t get with the school food and he would normally just skip out on eating during lunch or borrow money from his friends to go eat at a McDonald’s down the block. Nate was very popular in school, so he rarely had any problems borrowing money. His longtime friends Gary and Mike would spot him a couple dollars every now and then. But Nate started to get tired of asking his friends for money. He wanted to make his own money and considered finding part time work in a grocery store. He continued trying until one day on his way back from school, as he walked to his bus stop, Nate was confronted by Tony Payne and Deshawn Curry, both of whom were in Nate’s graduating class of 1981. The only problem was that neither of them would be eligible to graduate, having dropped out of school to continue their drug dealing business. They proceeded to teach Nate all the tricks of the trade and Nate found out that every week they would rake in more than thirty thousand dollars. Unfortunately most of that money went to the supplier of those drugs, Earl Canter, also known as “Big Earl.”
Earl had the connections to most of the drug imports and he did not hesitate to show the rewards of his booming business. A massive three hundred twenty-eight pound man, nobody messed with Big Earl. Earl was known to be a highly short tempered man and if a deal didn’t go his way or if his fellow dealers who worked with him did not make enough money to meet street value, he would let anyone know immediately. As soon as he was taught the ways of the street game, Nate was fully inducted into the drug trade. Nate’s grades soon began to slip lower and his career as a rising basketball player was rapidly fading as the allure of the streets began to entice him more and more. Worried about his plummeting grades, Nate’s homeroom teacher soon contacted Nate’s parents and informed them about Nate’s academic failures. On more than one occasion, there were shouting bouts between Nate and his parents. His father who was a telephone pole repairman was very upset that his son did not want to apply himself. His mother worked in a nursing home and shed more than a few tears whenever Nate would explode with anger and rage at them.
One warm night in April, Nate’s life came to a crossroad. Nate, who had not attended school in two weeks and he began receiving letters from the school stating quite clearly that he was in danger of not graduating. While the letters didn’t sway Nate one bit, they became the last straw for his parents. They forced Nate to pack his belongings and promptly threw him out of their apartment. Nate called one of his friends Gary McKey, who lived in an apartment building on the first floor so he had basement access and stowed Nate discreetly away in the basement, without his parents knowing. The basement was a little adjoining room with old boxes, dusty couches, and roaches scurrying around him. Nate cleaned the place up and slept on one of the couches in the basement. Gary’s parents never went to the basement, so Nate was well concealed and it was there that Nate spent the next two years until he found a place of his own. Gary would graduate from Richmond Hill and so would Mike Hillman, who was an All-Star quarterback for the Richmond Hill football team. Both Mike and Gary took turns trying to convince Nate to stop dealing drugs and stop abusing drugs as well. During these years, Nate became a user himself and was on everything including crack-cocaine, weed, and heroine. The changes that took place in his features were all too telling. His skin sagged, his eyes were bloodshot, and he would sweat profusely whenever he stopped using. One night Nate was nearly a block away from the trap house where Big Earl was sitting watching TV when he saw a typical business deal going on between Tony and a young man who appeared to be a gangbanger. The two men were standing next to a closed corner store. It was about eleven o'clock that night.
“Wassup, my man!” Tony greeted the young man as he slapped him a five, before looking around for witnesses. Seeing only Nate watching, Tony continued the deal. “Iight, so I got three bags of powder and a tube, man,” Tony said as he took three bags of cocaine out of his pockets and under his cap. The gangbanger took a look at the bag, staring at it intently with a look that showed that he didn’t believe Tony.
“Sho dis shit’s real? I need that real shit, you know what I’m sayin’?” he asked as he looked at the bags.
“Hell yeah it’s real, nigga. What you think I am?” Tony replied as he placed the three bags in his hands.
The gangbanger thought it over, then put his hands in his pocket to take out a stack of $50 bills. “All right then, how much?” he asked.
“I got you at $350 dollas kid,” Tony replied as the gang member paid him the money then took the bags before walking off in to the clear night. Tony crossed the street to walk over to Nate and said “What’s up man? How much you made?” he asked.
“Not much, man. Block’s been empty as hell,” Nate responded. It was true. Nate only had a few fifty dollar bills in his pocket but knew most likely that it was all going into the pockets of Big Earl.
“Damn man. You betta make that money before Big Earl stabs yo’ ass," Tony replied as he walked back into the building to give his earnings to Big Earl.
As Nate turned back to the street, he saw someone walk towards him. Although there were street lights in the area, Nate still couldn’t make out the figure walking towards him until she got nearly a block close. At first, Nate couldn’t believe his eyes. It had been two years since he had seen her, maybe longer.
“Nina, is that you?” Nate called out to the figure. He wasn’t so sure but it had to be her. As her image came to light a few feet away it was confirmed that it was Nina Martin.
Born to black and Hispanic parents, Nina Martin was once the object of every boy’s desire during her days at Richmond Hill High School, where she attended as well. As a matter of fact, Nina and Nate had known each other since their sophomore year at the school. At that time Nina was petite, slender, and beautiful. She had a light-skin complexion with copper brown eyes and thin lips. She was on the cheerleading squad and was on the beta club at their school. Even Nate, wouldn’t have minded dating Nina back in those days. But Nate didn’t do that for many reasons. One of the reasons was the fact that Nina was already dating Mr. Big Man on Campus himself, Mike Hillman. Mike was something of a lady’s man and he had the girls dangling from every doorway as he walked through those halls, hoping to catch word that Mike was single. But Mike loved Nina and they went steady for a while. But then the drugs kicked in. Although Nate had been using and dealing before anyone else did at school, Nina was one of the few girls who was also involved in doing crack cocaine and heroin, the latter being her drug of choice. That was the other reason why Nate hadn’t dated Nina. In Nina’s instance, if she didn’t shoot herself up the arm every once in a while, she would completely lose it. She would hallucinate, suffer terrible emotional swings, and just make the mood around her unbearable. There were times when Nate would walk the hallways and when he would pass the girl’s bathroom, he would hear ranting and raving to the walls. He would wait a couple of minutes, then go inside where he knew Nina was alone there and verbally snap her back to reality. Nobody else knew this. Nate was like a big brother to Nina and the last thing that Nate ever wanted was for Nina to suffer as he had with drug dependency.
While Nina and Nate’s friendship grew, Mike and Nina’s relationship began falling apart. Mike didn’t like the drug use of either his girlfriend or his friends, so by the time the second semester of their senior year came around Mike had rid himself of any communication with Nate or Nina. Although Nina’s drug use may not have been the sole reason for their split, rumors swirled that Nina had hooked up with Gary, who was tall and athletic and also played on the basketball team as well. Whether the rumors proved to be true or not, all Nate knew was that by the time he dropped out of high school and his friends graduated, none of them never really spoke to each other, although Gary lent Nate a room after his parents kicked him out.
After high school, Nina got sucked deeper and deeper in the drug world, working as an informant for Big Earl and often transporting drugs for him as well. Nina did this for about three years. Then one day she disappeared without warning. Nobody knew where she was hiding. Fear and paranoia washed over the group of the dealers. She might have gone to the police and sold them all out. Nate feared that possibility as well, but when no police asked about their mysterious activities, they soon took that notion out their minds and began to relax again. As Big Earl often said, “I knew there was no way that bitch was gonna open her mouth, anyway," After that everyone moved on about their business. No one was going to mourn the loss of one little girl. When one girl left, there were always three or four more girls willing to take her place. So Nina was never seen and never heard from again – until that night.
“Nate, is that you?” Nina asked as she came closer.
“Yeah, what’s up girl? Long time no see," Nate responded as he came forward to hug her. As Nina’s visage came within view, Nate suddenly saw that she had been using. She was twitching; not terribly but the sudden movements were undeniable, like she had a tick on her shoulder. She started to look a little frail and gaunt in her figure. She still had her pretty brown eyes and fair skin but the drugs were taking a toll even to her skin as well. Nevertheless, Nate still embraced her. “Where you been all this time?” he asked.
“Well I moved out to my aunt’s house in Hollis and started working at a pharmacy store there," she replied. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you anything. I just didn’t want to leave any tracks of anyone possibly following me out there. I just had to get away Nate. My parents had walked in on me shooting up once and I got in huge trouble for it," Nina added as Nate held her shoulders to keep her warm; as the night got chilly again. Nate was happy that she got out of 101 Avenue, because anyone who got out of those streets always had a chance at a better life. But one thing bothered him.
“If you liked it over there so much, then why’d you come back?” he asked her. At this, Nina sighed.
“Actually, I came here to look for you, Nate. During the time that I left, I was still dating Gary on and off. Eventually I got pregnant with his son. Then I realized that Gary was not the man I thought he was. I gave birth about a month and a half ago, Nate, and I came home. Then I got a letter from Gary telling me that he moved to Jersey and he was not ready to be a father," she continued. She went on to explain that her parents refused to help take responsibility of the baby, Nina had been forced to have sitters watch him while she worked before and during the pregnancy and she had gone into rehab to get clean. But the mounting responsibilities and pressure of being a single mother with no one to turn to had driven her back to shooting up heroin again. Nate, taken aback by what happened from Gary leaving his girlfriend and child behind, to the fact that Nina was back to her old habit and it was destroying her already frail relationship with her parents. “Nate, all I need is a few hundred dollars to get some things for him. Please," she begged him.
A few hundred dollars? Nate thought. I barely got that now and most of it has to get to Big Earl by tonight. Nate knew that if he didn’t meet the numbers or didn’t get Earl his money he would be in for at least a beating, if not death. But Nina was his friend. Nina was like a sister to him. Nina, who was once a free spirit, now had a burden that she could not carry on her own. Nate had to do something. He looked at the small wad of cash in his pocket and he looked at Nina, who seemed so small and helpless, wrapped in her brown sweater. Nate was forced to make a decision. He may not have been the best guy in the world but he wasn’t careless. There was no way he was going to run out on Nina the same way all the other boys in Nina’s life had done. “I’ll tell you what. You can chill at my spot with the little guy for the next couple weeks, cuz I ain’t got that much but I’m gonna figure something out," Nate said.
“But what about what you’re doing now? How you gonna get by?” Nina asked. Nate hadn’t even given that a thought. But he decided that he needed to quit this game and get himself an actual job. He had always thought about getting his GED since he never got his diploma and go pursue a career; a life that kept him away from these streets where the possibility of prison or death awaited him.
“I’ll be ok. Let me go to the motel where you stayin’ at right now and help you get your stuff, ok?” he asked. Nina nodded. They walked by some single story old buildings that had either regular wire metal fences or broken wood fences. As they approached a house where the gate in front of it was broken at the top and only a few sharp wooden spikes remained of the fence, they heard a booming voice.
“HEY YOU, WHERE YOU THINK YOU GOIN’? WHERE MY MONEY AT, NIGGA?” it thundered. Nate’s heart suddenly sank like a stone. He had been hoping to slip away in the dead of night without being noticed but apparently the plan had failed. All the dealers must have turned in their money, and left and Earl noticed that Nate was the only one not accounted for. Now there he stood, just a few feet away from Nate and Nina, his hands starting to ball into fists. Nate knew he couldn’t take Big Earl on by himself but he wasn’t a punk. He was not going to back down. That just wasn’t how things were done in the ‘hood. Besides, with Nina now next to him and needing help, he felt an obligation to protect her.
“I’m done with this, Earl. I could give you a little bit of this money, but I’m taking the rest of it, cuz my homegirl needs it," he responded gesturing to Nina. It only took a few seconds for the realization to kick in on Big Earl’s face.
“Little Ni-Ni. So I see you finally came back home. Why don’t you give big daddy a hug, huh?” he leered as he approached Nina. “Ni-Ni” was the name that Big Earl called Nina during the earlier days when she was still working for him. He may have seen it as a term of endearment, but Nina hated that name and took it as an insult, like he was addressing a child.
“Get the hell away from me, you damn psycho!” Nina replied as she back away from Earl into Nate’s arms.