“Hey man” he said in a voice that sounded like he hadn’t slept in nights “you got the scratch you owe me Knockemout”. Knockemout didn’t bother to give a reply. You’re thinking, what kind of person has a peculiar name such as Knockemout? He earned the name hustling the streets of Cass Corridor from the time he was kid to where our story brings us now. He was fixing most of Motown with junk , smoke or speed since they started making that sweet soul music in Studio A down on West Grand Boulevard better known as Hitsville USA, outside the hustle and bustle of down town Detroit.
Knockemout was staring at the junky who asked him for the scratch he “owed” him. Anyone and everyone who was in the business of getting high owed Knockemout one way or another. He lived up to his tittle by tipping his glasses and landing a punch square on the nose of the man asking for money. The junkie’s eyes rolled somewhere in the back of his head as Knockemout tipped his shades back over his charcoal eyes. If the junky was honest and asked for a fix, depending on his mood , he would have fixed him up. Hustling was his business, money, doubly so.
Down in Barry Gordy’s basement the funk brothers were laying down some grooves that could be heard four houses in any direction. There were always musicians hanging outside , waiting for there chance of stardom, or a chance to get out of the steel trappings of the auto industry. Secretaries from Motown were bouncing from house to house on West Grand looking for contracts, telephones , artist and Knockemout himself.
He ran his hustle in a little shanty hotel that rented rooms for eight dollars a night, for Knockemout, it was free. His room at the Rio Gran was next to a blind fella named Stevie. Stevie’s hustle was piano and prostitutes. Knockemout took his cut and kept Stevie smiling. The cops didn’t come around and bother as long as they were getting there cut. Everyone had each others hands in each others pockets.
It was summer, the weather was soulfully flowing as the tunes created in Studio A. Steel City had a reputation for hard times and with that came hard drugs and hustlers. Escapism was the name of the game, everyone wanted to pretend life was something it wasn’t. When you wish hard enough, and convince yourself something is truth you end up with the Velveteen Rabbit Syndrome. When you believe in something so much it comes to life.
Barry Gordy was getting fed up with his artist always being drugged out of their minds, people not showing up for recording sessions and a general disregard created by the substance abuse. Barry was aware of the control Knockemout had in this area of the city. He was disobeying the golden rule of drug dealing by getting high off his own supply. His choice of poison was heroin, a growing problem in inner city Detroit area.
Barry’s boiling point broke when one of his promising recording artist died of an overdose before he ever put his angel voice on wax. It was only a matter of time before it led back to Knockemout. Barry soon found out where his rising star got the drugs and decided to take action, he dropped a dime on the pusher man. He brought it to the attention of the chief of police that a drug ring was being run out of Rio Gran where a lot of the Motown artist lived along with him. When the police showed up at the Rio Gran to room 214. The room was empty but the police followed the smell of marijuana to Stevie’s room where he and Knockemout where smoking joint after joint over a game of chess. Stevie didn’t see it coming, but he could sense the terror that showed on Knockemout’s face. Stevie was let off when he later told police where Knockemout hid his stash.
He was booked and charged with position of a controlled substance with intent to distribute and was sentenced to eight years to be served at the penitentiary. In the streets he was known as Knockemout, to the law he was Joe Harris and to the penitentiary he was prisoner number 1467893. Everyday he spent in jail he dreamed of the vengeance he would one day have when he got out. He spent his time planning and plotting the murder of Barry Gordy. The fantasy’s got him threw eight long years. The first month would prove to be the hardest in the clink having to quite heroin cold turkey.
Eight years passed and so did most of the sixties. Joe Harris was released from jail and was eager to become Knockemout again. The day he was done with his sentence he went to an old friend who he knew would still be hustling the same block in Cass Corridor and on loan acquired a .22 caliber midnight special and enough junk to hold him over for the next few weeks. He fixed himself up in a dark alley and escaped into his old sickness.
When he was sober enough to stand , the sun had just gone down and he walked towards West Grand Boulevard , to Motown, Hitsville USA. Joe Harris, or Knockemout as he was more commonly known around these parts had been one hell of a street fighter, but had never taken anyone’s life. He dreamed of this day and had enough heroin to forget murdering a man and his family.
The studio was closed when he arrived to Hitsville but the front door was unlocked to the upstairs where Barry Gordy lived with his family. Knockemout walked up the steps, took the gun from his belt, cocked the pin back and opened the door slow. Barry was sitting at the head of the table with his family saying grace over a nice spread they were about to enjoy. He raised the gun as to aim at Barry’s head and he must of heard the crick of the floor because his eyes opened before he said amen. He calmly said “Joe, old friend I’m glad your here, It’s a pleasure to see you”. As the Gordy family started to turn around and look who there father was talking to, out of panic Knockemout quickly hid his gun in the belt where he took it out from before he crept in the room.
“Lets go outside and talk Joe” Barry said. No one ever called him Joe. As Knockemout he was invincible and by calling him Joe he brought him down to a more human level. Barry asked his family if he may be excused and assured them he would be back in a few minutes. They walked down the stairs and onto the front porch of Hitsville.
Barry was very nonchalant for a man that was almost murdered not even a few minutes prior. Barry put his hands on Joe’s shoulders and said “I know that you must be angry with me and I knew this day would come. When I heard you got out today I knew it was only a matter of time before you would come and find me. I have no reason to hide and I don’t feel bad about what I did. You had your part in the death of 17 year old who died in my hands on an overdose on heroin you sold him, so I thought I was more than fair to take the life of Knockemout. You created a lot of trouble for me Joe. That is all in the past, what I have for you is a proposition. If you can clean up, I have a song you can record, that is if you still have that voice I remember so well from church when we were still children. How does that sound Joe?”
Joe sat down stunned and amazed at the words Barry Gordy was offering this two bit street hustler that was destine for doom and damnation. All vengeance escaped Joe’s being. “ I don’t know Barry, I sang in jail to pass time but I don’t think I . . . wait a second, I came here to kill you and now your offering me a record deal?” Joe said as tears started welling up in his eyes.
Barry had a way with people and was very genuine for a cut throat business man. He understood Joe because they were both business men of sorts, just on different sides of the spectrum. Barry spoke “ Think about it like this Joe, I’m giving you a second chance, a way out from the streets. All you have to do is come up with some lyrics for this new song we recorded today, come down here tomorrow, clean, and we will lay it down.”
Joe, sat on the stoop of Hitsville with his head in his hands looking into the distance of West Grand Boulevard thinking of this chance to be a singer, which was his dream since he was a kid, before heroin found him. “Ok Barry, you got a deal, I’ll be here in the morning. If its not to much to ask, could you do something with these?” He handed Barry the .22 and his big bundle of heroin.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .