Seven other men were in the cell with Quentin Carter, so when he started to work, he put on his headphones. Any other time, their chatter would have been good material for the book, but now it was just a distraction. On a bad day, the headphones helped.
More than a year had passed since Carter was caught with a kilo of crack near 18th Street and Vine. Now he was serving a sentence at a federal prison in Springfield, Missouri. The four double bunks in his cell accommodated eight men. In the center was a steel toilet. When Carter was writing, he sat at a metal desk affixed to the corner of a bunk. It was the type of desk he had in grade school, with a compartment for books, paper and pens.
His cellmates were a rotating cast of characters. One was also from Kansas City, roughly the same age as Carter. Another was a Gangster Disciple from Chicago who walked with a limp. There was a short bald man with skinny legs who called himself a preacher.
Anyone who paid attention could see when Carter was deeply into his story. His face would twitch and spasm with his characters' emotions. When a hustler with more hormones than common sense was seduced by a woman he shouldn't have trusted and woke up in the trunk of a burning car, Carter breathed the hazy smoke. If the hero cruising down Prospect met a Latina who liked big cars and dangerous men, Carter was back on the East Side, his new rims flashing in the yellow glow of a streetlamp. He hadn't been without a woman for this long since he was a kid, and after finishing a particularly steamy sex scene, he would stand up hours later to discover semen drying on the inside of his thigh. When the day was over, 10 pages written longhand meant 24 hours crossed off the calendar.
Carter took his pen and sank into the white space between the blue lines of the legal pad.
It was a warm summer night in June. Keith Banks and his younger brother, Kevin, were cruising the streets in Keith's silver Lexus coupe. They slowly sipped Hennessy and Coke while listening to Too Short pumping out of the fifteen-inch subwoofers. Keith loved the attention he received, from both men and women, when he flossed through the city on twenty-inch chrome rims. Nothing excited him like attention. It was like his drug, and one of the main reasons that he got into the dope game. Years back when he was just a shorty, Keith used to envy the attention that dope boys got from men and women of all ages. To most it didn't matter if they were selling poison to their own people. What mattered was what the dope boys could put into empty palms.
He already had a title in mind: Hoodwinked.
Quentin Carter was 14 when he sold his first joint. He was a good student, and his family provided for him. There was no poverty to be beaten back; no dire circumstances forced him to trade against the law. But when he looked at the men in his neighborhood at 68th Street and Olive, he knew that he didn't have to spend the next six years impressing teachers to get rich.
A partner was waiting. His brother, Chris, two years younger, already knew to stay in bed until he was sure that their mother was asleep before he made a run to the drug house and set himself up with crack and cash for the night. Chris would slip out of bed at one in the morning and be back by six, just in time to get ready for another day in the sixth grade.