When Jenkins approached, my eyes, in anxious cooperation, flung themselves to the periphery of my vision, frantically alternating sides to detect—
“My man…” Jenkins laughed, clenching my shoulder. “You got nothing to worry.”
I exhaled, chuckling. “You typically have a menacing entourage.”
Jenkins smirked, “You looked like a white boy lost in the big city, seeing his very first black man.”
I shook his extended hand, laughing. “I haven’t seen you for awhile. And, I gotta admit, I didn’t know if I was on the hit-list or not.”
“Nah. We’ve both been busy, my man… But, I do have some business with you. You need to shower before we talk?”
I had just finished my evening run when Jenkins had appeared on the sidewalk, “Back to my place?”
Jenkins nodded, “Yes, and lets hurry.”
Jenkins and I had become acquainted during my stint as a prolific hack for the Big City Paper. During the 2008 Presidential Election, when the term community organizer was disgorged into the collective consciousness, my editor assigned me to profile one of the larger, more notorious community groups in the city.
‘You know these old rich white people ain’t got a clue to these right winger slurs. Community what…? They’re asking over their martinis. Because of this, the fucks upstairs want a story on that For Us organization…you remember that guy who runs it? Kinda mysterious dude, former Berkley professor or something, too? I dunno… years ago, when I had the city beat, I got approached by some sleazy cops about some…” My editor halted. “Anyway, tomorrow morning, this Jenkins guy’s assistant said he’s available, got it?’
During the interview with Jenkins, before I had even settled into one of his office chairs, he wanted to disclose, without any political bias that, quote, This guy from Chicago? I think it’s all a hustle…
‘Is that on or off the record?” I had teased.
‘Run it. Go for it. But, as you know, sentiments such as that, are not widely tolerated.’
That line did induce a brief, nauseous consternation among the editorial staff.
‘Some are saying this isn’t…especially during this election. When someone of his stature, especially in…someone of such prominence in that community speaks like that…It…It..It’s not good optics.”
‘It makes him look like a renegade. And, that’s what he’s always been. I went back through the archives, and comparatively, to what he’s said in the past, this is kitten kisses.”
My Editor nodded, ‘Look, the guys upstairs wanted this profile. And, even after his assistant approved the finished piece—I dunno. Everything about this is weird, got it?’
Of course, that was my last article.
A few weeks after it was published—quote intact—the avaricious shareholders of the Big Media conglomerate that owned the paper, demanded departments and staff be sacrificed to the gods of profit; writers and editors to be heaped upon the unemployment pyres!
With my newly deposited severance check, I started scribbling at one of the city’s alternative weeklies, the upstart, subversive competitor that envisioned itself as the savior of journalism.
Over the next year, my columns delved into the various subcultures of the city: the activists deposed by gentrification, the anarchist factions squabbling for relevance and the forty-somethings of Nirvana t-shirts and ripped jeans whose nascent political movement could only be defined as some sort of progressive/libertarian fusion.
‘Look at those analytics!’ My young editor slurped from her Starbucks, praising the barrage of hits and clicks on my articles. ‘I mean OMG, this is huge…we need to leverage this…Like, you need to start a YouTube channel, or something…”
I was suddenly in the swirl of celebrity, the hero’s and heroines of the city’s underground scene enthralled by my work, entrusting me with the latest schemes and whispers…
I hear they got the Block Bloc nark…
It’s disinfo, I’m told. It’s not Soros, it’s The Koch Brothers funding them…
That girl over there? Yes, the brunette, that’s Banksy!
Whatever nebulous influence I was generating, it was being recognized by those in Jenkins orbit.
You know Jenkins? He’s a prophet. He’s the new MalcomX…
He was in the Black Panthers before they got infiltrated by the CIA…
Mr. Jenkins would like to see you.
During those early years, I would meet Jenkins at his home, an unremarkable Victorian on the scrappy outskirts of the historic district that he shared with his wife, Maria, a college professor—who always greeted me with a percolator full of scorching Cafe Bustelo coffee—or, we gathered at the For Us community center that was located in the northern, most impoverished district of the city.
Both locations were monitored by a comically conspicuous police presence.
‘What they think they will hear and see, I have no idea…’ Jenkins would chuckle when leading me through the doors. ‘My lawyer is a very busy man, as you can imagine.”
‘They should wear fake mustaches while they are at it…’
When I sat with Jenkins, there was never some sort of occult aura, mafioso intimidation or malevolence. He was quiet and contemplative, always nodding, even sorrowful, but of a formidable presence, a man in his late 70s who had yet to relinquish the physique of his college football days.
‘That election profile you wrote stimulated a lot of talk. We saw an influx of volunteers and donations, so, thank you. Also, apologies on the downsizing.’
‘Ah, well, I appreciate it. Thank you, again. But, yeah, even with the job situation, everything has worked out.’
He smiled, ‘Yes…you’re making some waves.’
‘It kinda seems that way.’
‘Also, by meeting me tonight, you will soon find yourself the object of attraction. From the local police to three letter government agencies.’
Jenkins smirked, ‘Once a month, I would like you to write an article about my various community groups and local activists. I don’t want some public relations puff piece, nothing slavish, nothing obvious…okay?’
‘Also, and this is the most important thing, I want you to keep yourself clean. I want you to stay unbiased, receptive to all the chatter that is floating about. You have befriended some powerful people and groups, you understand?’
‘You’re not my informant, but… I want you to keep me aware of the changes or challengers in the scene. Sometimes these trust fund anarchists, these Cape Cod boys, think they can interfere and overthrow. I ain’t having it. I hear enough, but…’ He smiled. ‘My reputation precedes me, making it hard to really get the truth.’
‘Look, I need your honesty and commitment. If you aren’t willing to do this, then we depart as acquaintances…’ He opened his suit jacket, his hand pulling a white envelope from a pocket. ‘You accept this, then it’s all very different.’
For many years I accepted those envelopes.
Then, Jenkins went quiet.
Cleaned from the evening run, I stepped into my kitchen, Jenkins seated upon a stool at the small bar.
“Would you like a drink?”
“I would, but this will not be a long visit…”
I sighed, dropping ice cubes into a lowball glass, “I’m not feeling that comment.” I heard Jenkins chuckle from behind as I poured the whiskey.
“Something has happened…”
I sat on the stool opposite Jenkins.
He stared down, fingers tracing the whorls of the marble bar surface. “The cops, I’m told, are going false flag. The mayor, the governor, these fucking right wingers, all want me taken out.”
“Jesus…” I sipped.
“You haven’t been involved in the scene for awhile, so you don’t realize how vulnerable it is, how portions have either imploded or been dismantled. These billionaire do-gooders are sabotaging years of my work. Years of good work. This so called resistance has everything in disarray. The trust has dissipated.” He exhaled; a tremulous seething. “Sorry.”
“When you disappeared all those years ago, my sources evaporated. The paper imploded and I was kinda radioactive. So… that’s when I moved to California and did that whole tech-start-up newsletter thing.”
“You were very blessed, my man. You made a lot of money.”
“Yeah, and I feel like a bitch for not donating any to you.”
Jenkins grunted. “I need a favor…”
“Fuck.” I sipped from my glass.
“Tomorrow night, down at the riverside complex? There is going to be a car accident.”
“I only trust you…” His eyes hovered over the rims of his glasses. “I’m desperate. If I can beat this, if all of this is true, maybe, I can beat them.” He closed his eyes. “The specifics of this incident are immaterial, the layers of deceit, the ramifications of how it will play-out will not help you, but, I just need you to photograph the accident. The driver. Photograph the driver.”
“I don’t want money.”
“What if I’m arrested?”
“You know I have a good lawyer.”
“Could I be killed?”
“All the various and infamous government agencies will be conducting surveillance during this operation…”
“Act as though you’re going on your run, coming back from your run. You’re just a bystander. Just take your phone. Take the picture.”
“What if I get caught? They know our relationship. How is this going to seem natural?”
“When was the last time we saw each other? How many years has it been?”
“Six, seven?” I snorted, disbelieving this entire conversation.
“No contact in all those years. Nothing. No evidence. No video. No sound.”
“What about tonight? What if they followed you?”
Jenkins smiled, “No worries. Believe me, my man.”
“What time tomorrow?” I asked.
I felt delirious…
The sky, the buildings, my entire self, was palpitating…
I began to slow my run…
Seven… At around seven o’clock, Jenkins had said. It’s going to be an old muscle car, I’m told. Something those asshole, confederate flag waving hillbilly white supremacists always drive.
I stared at the screen of my phone, 7:07…
I exhaled, trotting closer toward the intersection of the river park.
At the traffic signal of the park, its engine revving, was one of those immense metal slabs of 1970s American car engineering, a brutish two-door coupe whose exterior was worn and rusted, side and front panels alternating in black and silver as if it was in a state of haphazard restoration.
Then, when the traffic light went to green, the driver pulverized the accelerator, the car manically jolting forward into the intersection.
The car made a brazen left turn, veering recklessly across the roadway lanes as it attempted to control itself.
I started to run, the car momentarily suspended on two wheels until it landed, swerving and roaring, pedestrians halting, staring, awaiting the inevitable crash and Hollywood flames.
Just as the car regained balance, it accelerated again, its tires screeching as it became uncontrollable, careening into an old brick warehouse.
I closed my eyes, hearing the scrunching impact of metal, imagining the driver mangled, arteries sputtering blood…
I continued running, my thumbs quivering, unable to input the passcode on my phone’s screen—
Swipe up! Swipe up the screen!
The camera icon appeared as I rushed by startled onlookers…
“I’m a doctor, I’m a doctor!” I yelled, throngs of pedestrians parting. “Move away from the car!”
At the car, my hand tightened around the chrome door handle, my adrenaline yanking the handle, the old door hinges groaning, shedding rust as the door opened to reveal…
I stared at my phone, its screen blooming with white light as the flash activated, my thumb pressingpressingpressingpressingpresssing to capture the driver-less and passenger-less interior of the car…
Jesus… I heard someone say, as a gunshot erupted.
When I turned, men wearing black suits and sunglasses were running toward me, their arms outstretched, guns pointed…