22 FRANK THE KNIFE GREEN
Devil In A Blue Dress, 1995, USA, Director Carl Franklin
Frank Green was not a bad man, no, I wouldn’t say so. No, sir. He was a thief, that’s all. And, as far as I recall, no one said no thanks, Frank, to the booze he looted and sold cheap. Frank learnt robbing on the streets when he was a kid. The brother didn’t know any other way to get by. And on the streets is where Frank learnt to use the knife, and, like robbing, poor Frank knew nothing else, which must be the reason he never carried no shooter. I remember big Frank was no looker, and in his business, looking the way he did, it helped him get by. No one wanted to argue with big Frank which no doubt was why Frank believed he could get by just carrying the knife. Well, he didn’t. He was shot in the back in an alley over there in New Orleans. Folks say he should never have left LA and that if he’d stayed in his home in Watts then Frank The Knife Green would be alive today. No way, man. A gun in a dark alley was waiting for Frank all his life. The back of Frank was broad on account of his shoulders but when you have enemies out to get you there is nothing as big and wide as a waiting back. I one time saw that movie about Jesse James. I don’t normally think too much about white folks and all that stuff that is supposed to make them suffer but the way that coward Bob Ford killed Jesse James in the back didn’t seem right to me, so when I heard about what happened to Frank Green I was kind of sad.
The guy who killed old Frank died not long after. Frank’s killer was a white guy and he wasn’t much. We expected the killing would be something to do with the work Frank had, but no, this white guy said he did it for love. Woah, you’re ahead of me. Frank wasn’t that kind of man. He liked broads as much as the next guy. And he wasn’t discriminating about his ladies from what I saw but when you look like Frank that is maybe the way it has to be. No, this white guy loved Frank’s sister. Daphne was a looker, black eyes as big as planets. Frank and Daphne were close, so we heard after they left LA. This was bad news for this white guy who wasn’t much. Frank was not just protective, he was no way partial to white guys who didn’t amount to much. Just let me remember some of this stuff. Frank chased this white guy away from Daphne and, because Frank had a way with a knife, this white guy didn’t look like he did before he was chased. I don’t think there were many scars but no one meeting this white guy would miss them. You get the idea, I reckon.
Why wasn’t Frank so partial? The white guy was a horn player on Bourbon Street, I heard, and he, well, you know how those jazz blowers like to relax. This one did, anyway, and Frank heard that this horn player liked company when he stepped outside, you know what I mean? Frank had seen what his booze did to people. He didn’t want his sister to be a dope head. You can’t blame a man for that.
Frank and his sister had a secret, a big one. We all know now but back then in LA no one had any idea unless you count Coretta who was a friend of Daphne. Coretta was a real humdinger lady. Gorgeous and friendly, and if they ain’t friendly it don’t matter what they look like. All the time Frank was in LA, I knew his sister as Daphne but it turned out that Daphne was a Ruby as in that was her name and not because she was no diamond. Her real name was Ruby Monet, and her and Frank came from somewhere in Louisiana. And in case you think it’s slipped my mind, it ain’t, this is the secret Frank and Ruby had. They were brother and sister but all the time they were in LA no one knew because they kept it hid. And how were we going to go figure? A slim pretty white girl is sister to big ugly brother Frank The Knife Green. Maybe Frank wasn’t so ugly but he sure looked nothing like his little sister, little half sister I should say. Frank and Daphne, I still think of her that way, they had the same Creole mother but different fathers. From what I heard about what happened between Daphne and her pa it might have been better if Daphne had been the daughter of Frank’s old man. But when just born baby Daphne said why hello to Louisiana there was no black husband in that family. The Creole mama had opened another honey jar. If Frank’s father had hung around then Daphne would have been black and who knows what would have happened to the lady. Daphne could have been the one taking the bullet in the back like brother Frank. Of course it could have all been different, and with a mother that was white without any Creole in the mix then little Daphne might have said well hello to somewhere a whole lot different than a shack in old Louisiana.
You get to my age, man, and you think about these things. Why we live the lives we do. My mother, rest in peace, used to say the good Lord decides but I don’t go with that because if he did and he was a true Lord like Ma said then he wouldn’t have come up with the idea of white folks. My woman back home says the Lord just had a bad day on that particular occasion but you could say the same thing about coward Bob Ford and nobody forgives him. If someone knows what happened to Daphne after the trumpet player met his maker, they sure ain’t told me. It wasn’t like the killing of Frank was in all the LA papers. I know what I know from folks talking. You hear things from folks, but some things you don’t hear. Well, you can’t hear everything. As my dear mother, rest in peace, used to say, there ain’t enough hours in the day to know what happens to folks. People pass you by in this life. I was told that Daphne had earned a living working with the guys Frank knew. She didn’t mind black folks, which is no surprise considering how she was fixed with relatives, so she could have, I figure. Maybe she was good with the books and records and did something like that. From what I heard Frank was no bookkeeper.
Yes, sir, I know Easy Rawlins. I can’t say I ever took to the man. Easy was an angles man, and it was hard to relax when he was around. But he stuck by his friend Mouse who was definitely no knife man because he shot too many people, so I’ll give Easy credit for that. It took him a few years but Easy got his detective licence. I know the police liked the work Easy did to stop the man that was killing the black girls. No Black Dahlia killer roaming these streets, all thanks to Easy. No, sir, Easy had it figured. And I can’t say Easy wasn’t straight with me because he was. Easy always told you up front what he was going to do next. What Easy did wasn’t wrong but I just didn’t like the way he was always figuring the angles. The guy had property, and I don’t blame him for wanting to own his house and live in a suburb just like white folks but when he bought buildings and then rented them out to black families I didn’t feel the same about old Easy. And I don’t care what rent he charged. Easy didn’t turn away from his own but he had to have more than the rest of us. I heard he was good with children, and his two kids did just fine although none of the ladies in the life of Easy Rawlins stayed around for long. Easy adopted a daughter, which a lot of men wouldn’t, but just like white folks he had to send her to some stuck up private school. So it was no surprise to hear that something loving happened between Easy and Daphne. He was always watching how white folks lived. The joke is that the next of kin to Daphne was as black as me.
Okay, Easy may have done right with his kind, and more than once, but I just didn’t like him wanting what he wanted. You understand me? I’ll talk true. When I heard that Frank The Knife had been ready to slice the throat of Easy and would have done just that if Mouse hadn’t put a pistol to the head of Frank, well, I imagined Frank and Easy without Mouse in the room. Inside my head I saw Easy dead on the floor just like Jesse James after coward Rob Ford did what he did. I think to myself, if that had happened, would I be heartbroken. No, sir, I don’t reckon I would.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest travel book No Tall Heels To Tango is now available here.