Launched with the summer '04 award-winning bestseller Brooklyn Noir, Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the geographical area of the book. Original stories by Marlon James, Kwame Dawes, Patricia Powell, Chris Abani, Marcia Douglas, Leone Ross, Kei Miller, Christopher John Farley, Ian Thomson, Thomas Glave, and Colin Channer.
From "Trench Town" to "Half Way Tree" to "Norbrook" to "Portmore" and beyond, the stories of Kingston Noir shine light into the darkest corners of this fabled city. Joining award-winning Jamaican authors such as Marlon James, Leone Ross, and Thomas Glave are two "special guest" writers with no Jamaican lineage: Nigerian-born Chris Abani and British writer Ian Thomson. The menacing tone that runs through some of these stories is counterbalanced by the clever humor in others, such as Kei Miller's "white gyal with a camera," who softens even the hardest of August Town's gangsters; and Mr. Brown, the private investigator in Kwame Dawes' story, who explains why his girth works to his advantage: "In Jamaica, a woman like a big man. She can see he is prosperous, and that he can be in charge." Together, the outstanding tales in Kingston Noir comprise the best volume of short fiction ever to arise from the literary wellspring that is Jamaica.
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About the Author
Colin Channer: Colin Channer is a father, fiction writer, and occasional essayist. His books include the novel Waiting In Vain, a critic's choice selection of the Washington Post, and the novella The Girl With the Golden Shoes. His other writings have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Times Literary Supplement. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, he has lived in the U.S. since the early 1980s. He's the editor of the fiction anthology Iron Ballons, and coeditor with Kwame Dawes of the poetry anthology So Much Things to Say.
Read an Excerpt
PART IHARD ROAD TO TRAVEL
MY LORD BY KWAME DAWESPortmore
A lot of people say they want to leave this city to go somewhere else. Not me. I love this place for what it is. Ugly and pretty. Rough and tender. Chaotic and smooth. Loving and murderous. All of it.
I love it like I love things you maybe shouldn't love.
When I was growing up off Red Hills Road, on Whitehall Avenue, I used to wake up in the morning, step into the yard, hear rooster crowing, smell the wood fire burning, hear Swap Shop on the radio, and just smile and say, "Yes, my people. Yes, my country." But I didn't really know love till around '78 when I remove to where I live now at the bottom of Stony Hill. Yeah man. Long time.
This is a house with history. The first time I see this place was in the early '70s. That time no house wasn't even here. It was just a little spot after you cross over the bridge from Constant Spring Road, and before you start to properly climb the hill, where a man had a small shop where he used to fix bicycle.
Most people, myself included, thought is squat the man was squatting there. After all, who would buy a piece of narrow land right side of a wide concrete gully and surround by macka bush and bramble, right?
But the man had bought the land. And soon he built a small cottage like one of them you find on a country road in cool Mandeville — tidy, nice filigree woodwork, and a full covered veranda. He paint the whole thing yellow and green. And the man live in that house even when everywhere around him they was building those flat-roof bungalow on the lower parts of the hill and the fancy house on the upper slopes. The man wouldn't sell a inch of the property. So, what you have in the middle of the area is like a piece of the country.
Well, the man dead and his people decide to go to foreign with every other brown-skin Jamaican who was absconding to Miami in those days. And is so I get to buy this place cheap-cheap.
This is where I brought Deloris. She was my wife.
Kingston is rough. My work is dirty work. And most night, when I am driving northward from the congested city by the sea, through the crazy traffic and smoke and noise (with the window down cause I like to hear and smell my city — and anyway, I waiting for the right time to fix the damned air conditioner in the car), I am just thinking about the way the whole place start to get greener with trees and more residential house as we climbing the hill toward Constant Spring. Past the stoosh Immaculate Conception High School for girls, past the horse farm on the left, past the stretch of the golf course, past the old market after the traffic light, then past the plaza where my office is, and then turn left to cross the bridge, and right there so, right at the foot of the mountain itself, my cottage, my castle, my refuge.
As I am driving I feel the sweet heaviness of heartbreak and desire, like a great Alton Ellis tune seeping out of a rum bar around six thirty, when the sun going down — the kinda tune that make you want to cry, and laugh, and screw, and hug-up, and pray at the same time. Yes, this city will break my heart every time, and the city come in like the women — tough, sweet, soft, dangerous, pragmatic, and fleshy. This city is my bread and wine, my bitters and gall, my honey and milk.
Deloris gone, Cynthia Alvaranga gone, and the place feeling sadder and sadder these days, but it is what I have, it is my comfort, it is my familiarity. I will dead here. That is the simple truth of the matter. Right here. Right here.
When Cynthia Alvaranga came to my office that first time, she wasn't coming to see me. She wasn't coming to hire me. She was coming to see Deloris. See, that was around the time when Deloris decide to start her dressmaking business.
It was Deloris idea to set up the place — what she call a "one-stop shop." You know, dressmaking, wedding planning, detective agency — one-stop shop. She said that is how they doing it in America now. Well, I never hear of it, but it make sense to me. So it was her idea, not mine. She said to me that if I did that I could start to branch out to more things — handyman finder ("If you can find people, you must can find a man to fix anything quicker than most people"), rent-a-house finder, that kinda thing — and she wanted to start a dressmaking place near me, but wasn't ready yet, but said it was a good way to start a business mentality, and when a couple go into business partnership and work together, she say, it strengthen their marriage. If you ask me, she just wanted to keep her eye on me. You know woman.
Be that as it may, our place was at the corner of the plaza and my glass door was nicely shaded by a big pretty flamboyant tree. The people who used to have the space before had what they call a gourmet Jamaican restaurant — a place name Nyame's that some Dutch couple used to own. It never work out — the woman find a rastaman and run away to Portland, so the man pack up and go back to Europe with the children. I get it cheap-cheap. Tragedy can be a blessing.
The way my office set up, it is hard for me to not see who coming in even if they are not coming to me. You see, I work in a cubicle to one side of the office, which use to be the manager office for the restaurant, I think. But in fact is not really a cubicle, because cubicle make it sound like it small. My door is open most of the time, so I can see when people coming into the office; and when the front door open, a buzzer go off so I can be ready for anything.
Deloris has her working area around the back where the kitchen used to be. It is a big space and she have machine and two big cutting table and whole heap of mannequin and that kinda thing there. She keep bolt and bolt of cloth in there too, and she have a rusty fridge and restaurant-grade stove so she can cook for us sometimes.
Be that as it may, Cynthia Alvaranga came in around two o'clock, so the place still smelling of oxtail and butter beans from our lunch. I see her hesitate at the door, but maybe it was me who hesitate. Maybe it was my head that hesitate, because I still remember that what I saw was a tall woman, a strong woman, a dark beautiful woman, who, I could tell, must have been some kinda athlete, because her body moved under what Deloris like to call a A-line frock, like a machine. Her face had that clean, fresh look. No makeup. Eyelash thick and long, lips full and pouting, and her eyes looked so tired, so sad, so broken down.
Normally for me, what I look for is a weakness in a woman, a flaw, a thing that can make me feel sorry for her. That is why fat woman was always my target when I was misbehaving.
And is not just because me fat too.
Most of the PI I know are fat like me, but they got fat recently, you know. I was always fat. And my fat is a fit kinda fat. I carry fat well. Them, is like they wear their clothes tight because they don't know they are fat. For instance, they like wear their shirt tuck in. So their belly is always hanging over. And guess what? They feel they looking neat because they always used to wear their shirt in their pants from when they never had a belly.
Me, from I was in technical school, I was wearing my shirt out of my pants to hide my belly. So I know how to dress like a fat man.
Yes, I am a fat man, but don't sorry for me. In Jamaica a woman like a big man. She can see he is prosperous, and that he can be in charge. People call you "boss" before they even know who you are. "Big man," "Boss," "Officer," "King," and my favorite, "My Lord." When a woman call you "My Lord," that is a sweetness.
Be that as it may, fat woman use to be my target. Though sometimes it is not just the fat, sometimes it might be something else. As I said, my secret is to find something in a woman, a limp, a sickness, something she ashamed of — a secret, you know, some nastiness in her life. When I can find that, maybe it makes me feel superior, but mostly it makes me feel that I can do something for her that she will appreciate, and that is how they come to love me, and that is how I can make a move.
I could see that Cynthia had a tiredness hanging off her. The expensive darkers on her forehead didn't fool me. Yeah, she was wearing nice things. She even had a Prada bag in her hand. But the things had an oldness and a beat-up quality to them so I know she was a woman in distress. And I began to think: A wonder what she want from me.
But it wasn't me she came to. It was Deloris. She came about a dress. I just happened to be the person she saw. Though I still wonder about this sometimes.
"The dressmaker is in here?" This is the first thing she said. She was standing at the door to my office. I had buzz her inside. She stare into my face like she was looking for something. Hard high cheekbone, almond-shape eye, and a small mole by her right temple. One second I register it as a flaw, next second I change my mind. Her hair cut low-low and neat and shining with oil. I wanted to touch it, feel how it feel on my palm.
"Yes, she in the back," I said. Then I shouted, "Deloris, customer!"
She walk by, and I wait for a second and then stand up and walk to my door to see her from the back. Lord, what I thought I saw to be beautiful from the front was a joke. Talk about thighs. And bottom. Firm. Lift up. Savior!
I had to step back into my office because the way I was looking at her, I felt dirty, like I was violating her with my eyes. No, no. I didn't want to do that. So I stay inside my office and blank out every other sound and listen. She wanted a dress. Black.
"It is for a funeral. I want it to be nice — stylish. Then I want you to make the same exact one, but this time for a eleven-yearold girl."
Her voice tell me she went to a good high school, but I couldn't tell anything else. I know she wasn't a Stony Hills money woman. This woman was like me and Deloris. Poor, but with education, and she must have worked in a nice office or something. Or maybe she was one of those woman who went to America on sports scholarship.
Show you how good I am. On every one of those, come to find out later on, it turned out I was right. St. Jago High. Sprinter. One. Two and hurdles. I even knew her name. I remembered her name from Champs. Yeah man. Had seen her from the stands but never up close. Even see her run for Jamaica couple time a few years back. A vague memory came to me about how she got injured or something like that — that's why she never made it big. Maybe I just filling that part in now. Yeah, but she was a big name in high school, for sure. Career done early. Promising for a while. A muscle tear or bone fracture break the promise, and that was that.
Be that as it may, as I was leaning back in my chair with my hands cross behind my head and listening, I began to wonder who died. Same time I hear Deloris say, "Sorry for your loss. My condolences."
And then Cynthia, like she answering me too, say, "No one has died yet. This is for us. This is to bury me and my girl."
I keep saying Cynthia, but it wasn't until I took her out that I learned her name. Yeah, I took her out. But that was not my original intention. In a sense it was Deloris fault.
When Cynthia left, I felt very worried. From the footsteps and the buzzer at the door I could tell that Deloris had gone to walk her outside. But that is neither here nor there. I was worried because I was sure Deloris had somehow seen the way I was staring at Cynthia and even had some sense of the thoughts I was fighting in my head. Is like I felt the thoughts were so loud that anyone close to me could hear.
I feel shame to say it now, but somehow in that short space of time — the time in which the two of them went outside the door and Deloris come back by herself — I imagined one of them passing. Which one? I feel shame to say ... my wife. Yeah, in that short space of time of listening to Cynthia and watching her, I imagined my Deloris passing, imagined Cynthia coming to give me comfort, imagined us finding a romantic connection, deep as the deepest ocean between us in our loss and need.
Yes, I even imagined what it would be like to make love to a woman with tall legs like that. How she would squat over me, how she would move, how different it would be to see her thighs ripple as she rose and sat on me.
Deloris, you see, have some short legs, and for a while she had stopped getting into acrobatics or anything that would make her sweat even a little.
And I don't want to disrespect Deloris because she help build me in life and she teach me plenty things. For instance, is she who teach me about A-line dress. She used to say that they were flattering and forgiving to short woman like her who were well-endowed. Well, truth be told, by the time I met Cynthia not even A-line could help Deloris, if you know what I mean.
But she was my wife and I love her, so I never ever tell her anything like that.
But it kinda hard when you marry a woman and you think she going just get a little grayer and maybe get two wrinkle when she get old. Yeah man, when I married her, I was thinking that all woman with Indian blood would stay fine-fine like stick.
Now I am not complaining, but Cynthia, I have to admit, made me have these very unfair imaginings.
When Deloris came back from walking Cynthia outside, I was waiting to hear it from her. I was waiting for her to ask me why I was staring at that woman like that. I was waiting for her to say, in the way only Deloris can, "I don't like that woman." But I swear, what I heard was the exact opposite. Exact.
"I like her," Deloris tell me. "I feel for her. You have to find a way to help her."
That is what Deloris said, with this look in her face of such care and pity and compassion. So is not like it was me who get myself involved.
I got up out of my chair and walk to my wife. I looked her straight in her face but I didn't touch her. I looked in her eyes. Then I recognized it. I knew the expression. It was the one she showed for people she liked but felt sorry for. I can't describe it but when you live with a woman long time you know these things.
And then I saw another look under the first look. Is like when women used to wear slip under them frock and piece of the pinkness hang down. Deloris was enjoying the pity. To her look there was something you'd call relish.
And I knew in the moment what it was about. Come on, people, I am a detective. I am people literate. I can read. Something Cynthia must have told her outside was allowing Deloris to feel sorry for her in ways that made her feel good, feel better than her. Cynthia, who was so much more beautiful that Deloris was, had ever been, or would ever be. This was more than being sorry for a woman who is afraid to die. It went deeper.
"She want to kill that man," Deloris said, shaking her head.
"Which man?" I ask.
"Her husband. Him is a dirty bitch." Deloris stomp her foot as she walk to the back of the shop. "You going to have to help her."
Now, I should have stopped it there. I should have put a stop to that kinda discussion right there. It was clear that Deloris had not noticed my thoughts, and I had already gotten away with murder, so to speak. Now was the time to end it. Now was the time to pull away from it and not entertain a discussion.
It did occur to me in that instance that maybe this was a trap. That maybe Deloris was testing me to see how I would react. But something in her tone, something in the way she did not focus on me when she was speaking, something about the distracted interest she had in this woman, made me think that this was no trap — Deloris was not even thinking about me at all. Deloris wanted to help this woman. Deloris wanted to join forces with me to help her. Deloris wanted US to like this woman. Which means that Deloris was giving me permission. Did she not understand what she was doing here?
I followed her to the back room and watched her picking out some black material.
I asked her, "So, you going to make the dresses?"
"Yes, man. Have to make it for her. I understand what she trying to do, and she must get the dress and look good in it."
"For her funeral?"
"No, man. For his funeral. She wearing it to his funeral." Deloris stared at me when she said this. "Dat man haffe dead."
"That is a serious thing to say." I was trying to stave off what I could sense was lurking in the shadows ready to consume me.
"You going to have to help her," Deloris said. "She say she want you to help her finish things proper. You can't say no. I don't like to get into your business, as you know, but this is one time I am going to beg you to do me the favor. Meet with her. Find out. And finish it for her."
There was a lot of things I wanted to say to Deloris, but the thing I said was, "Finish what?"
Deloris told me what the woman said.
"But you don't even know her," I responded, trying to muster up some good reason that even I did not believe. "What if she lying?" I asked this question knowing that she was not. I threw out several scenarios. Five or so, including, "What if she had another man?" Deloris threw up her hands. I said to her, "This kinda thing happens all the time."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Kingston Noir"
Copyright © 2012 Akashic Books.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsTable of Contents
Part I: Hard Road to Travel
“My Lord” by Kwame Dawes (Portmore)
“The White Gyal with the Camera” Kei Miller (August Town)
“Tomcat Beretta” by Patricia Powell (New Kingston)
“A Grave Undertaking” by Ian Thomson (Downtown Kingston)
Part II: Is This Love?
“Immaculate” by Marlon James (Constant Spring)
“Roll It” by Leone Ross (Mona)
“One-Girl Half Way Tree Concert” by Marcia Douglas (Half Way Tree)
“Leighton Leigh Anne Norbrook” by Thomas Glave (Norbrook)
Part III: Pressure Drop
“54-46 (That’s My Number)” by Christopher John Farley (Trench Town)
“Sunrise” by Chris Abani (Greenwich Town)
“Monkey Man” by Colin Channer (Hughenden)