Money, Power & Respect

"That must have been a great loss for you," The Benefactor said, "losing your cousin."

"Actually, I don't feel one way or the other about losing Cuzzo," I told her, because of something he said to me on his deathbed. The Benefactor said it was a blessing I got to speak with him before he passed; many others don't have that opportunity. She encouraged me to proceed.

When I was 11 years old, that whole side of my family was summoned to the hospital by The Elders. Cuzzo was sick with what they told me was A Big Heart. Having too big of a heart seemed like a small thing to take Cuzzo down. I thought nothing could take him down.

Cuzzo had one of The Elders contact my grandma with a specific request to see me. The day my mom and I stopped by, he spoke with both of us briefly, then asked to speak to me alone.

I stood near the door wanting to escape, but Cuzzo gestured for me to come closer. He was so thin and fragile-looking with tubes and wires poking out everywhere, the complete opposite of how I remembered him.

"Don't be scared, now," he said. "You're never scared." He gave a dry laugh that sounded more like a cough.

"Come closer so I can see that pretty face of yours."

As I sat bedside, Cuzzo told me he was going to die soon. I asked of what, since it seemed to be a lot more than just A Big Heart.

"AIDS," Cuzzo said faintly. I didn't know what AIDS was but assumed it was pretty serious to lay Cuzzo out like that.

"I don't have much time left, baby girl," he said, "but I want you to know that even though I won't be here physically, I'll always be with you. Remember what I taught you as a little girl. Don't miss me when I'm gone."

“Huh?” I said, perplexed. I didn't know how not to miss him.

"In our family somebody's always dying or being born. There's always somebody to take somebody else's place."

I wondered who would take his.

"What I'm about to tell you don't ever forget," Cuzzo said, his voice barely above a whisper. "Keep beating the other side, just like me and your grandma taught you."

He paused, inhaling deeply.

"Your cousins, teach them what you know. They might not say much but they do look up to you."

"I'm only 11, though," I said. "I don't think people will listen to me."

"F*ck other people, listen to your grandma, me, and yourself," Cuzzo said. "Remember, I've always been part of you, ever since that other game. Listen to us.”

Cuzzo followed up by saying that if he had his way, he would have never had me in that other game. 

“It is what it is, though,” and I knew exactly what he meant: since Cuzzo received those orders from someone who outranked him, his hands were tied in the situation.

“Your grandma took over for me after that other game, and that's alright. Us three, we're a lot alike. Listen to your grandma and me and soon you’ll take over yourself."

"Take over what?" I asked.

"Take over The Game. You got their Money as a little girl. I gave you Power. Now get their Respect. All of it."

"How?" I asked him, as usual.

"By any means necessary," Cuzzo said.

A few minutes passed and Cuzzo fell silent. I picked up his arm by the wrist; it fell limply by his side. I buzzed the nurses, who came rushing into the room. They ushered me out of the room and down the hallway where my mom was waiting.

The next day I got a call from The Elder who put me in that other game, asking what my cousin told me on his deathbed. With Granny listening in on a separate line, I told her Cuzzo told me to come for the other side’s Money, Power & Respect by any means necessary.

The Elder laughed.

“Your cousin’s gay,” she said. “It’s why you were able to spend so much time with him growing up.  It’s also how he died of AIDS. Since he tells you so much, did he tell you that?”

The AIDS part, yes. But Cuzzo, gay? Considering the source, I was skeptical.

 “He had new girlfriends every week, though… how can he be gay?” I asked.

The Elder laughed again and said those women weren’t his girlfriends, they were his employees. Granny took over the conversation at that point, rushing me off the phone.

“This Elder added another piece to the puzzle, eh?” said The Benefactor. “And Cuzzo’s a gay pimp, look at that.”

We chuckled.

“Bit by bit we’re finding out how that closet of stacks was built,” she continued. “Gambling, extortion, prostitution… sounds like a true gangster story to me,” she said.

“Now, when gangsters die, it’s usually quite the spectacle: an all-out affair. Tell me about his funeral.”

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