Ella cannot believe how profane Malcolm has become in both his speech and in his general outlook. Shorty, likewise, is a little overwhelmed by how predatory Malcolm is, like a dangerous animal. At first, Malcolm just sleeps and smokes reefers for two weeks at Shorty’s house. Once he starts going out and finds some cocaine, though, he begins to want to talk and make plans for the future. Malcolm talks with Sophia in the evening and with Shorty all night.
Malcolm the narrator marks the time lapse since his last time in Boston by his changed attitude, which shocks his friends and family. This attitude, which he describes as predatory, is completely goal-focused: looking forward only to the next high, the next score, the next hustle.
Sophia’s husband works now as a traveling salesman, giving her more ability to come see Malcolm. Malcolm has always exploited Sophia for money, but she’s never complained about it. He also occasionally would hit her, but she always came back. Now, his demands for money and her beatings have gotten worse, but he never worries that she will stop coming.
Malcolm the narrator reflects that this level of extortion and abuse was out of hand. However, he seems to imply that a certain level of extortion and abuse is normal and acceptable – a potentially shocking claim to a contemporary reader.
Malcolm notes again Shorty’s love for white women, and he goes crazy for Sophia’s younger sister, who likewise goes crazy for him as a black musician. Malcolm takes the girls to Shorty’s shows, where other black men gather to drool over the two beautiful white women.
Shorty and Sofia’s sister represent for Malcolm a sort of match made in hell, both completely obsessed with the image of the other, rather than with the other’s true nature.
Malcolm decides to begin a new hustle, but first he needs funds. So he takes what money he can from Sophia and gambles at John Hughes’ gambling house. One day, Malcolm manages to win a huge pot and John’s respect as a gambler, and John welcomes Malcolm to come back whenever he wants.
Malcolm displays his diverse hustler’s skill set, which is a product of a sharp intelligence and careful study from the older hustlers in Harlem and Small’s Palace.
John Hughes requires his guests to check their guns at the door. Malcolm usually checks two guns—but one day, when another gambler tries to cheat, Malcolm pulls a third gun on him, earning himself a reputation as trigger happy and crazy. And in reflection, Malcolm believes that he probably was a little insane during that time.
As mentioned at the beginning of the chapter, Malcolm saw his outlook as that of a predatory animal. His quick recourse to threats demonstrates how few qualms he had about violence.
Reginald comes to visit in Roxbury, after having returned to Harlem and discovering all the mess Malcolm left behind. As always, Malcolm is very happy to see his closest brother. Malcolm also says that while Ella still disapproved of his lifestyle, he believes she secretly admired his rebellious ways, as she herself is very independent and brave.
Malcolm’s two closest siblings both admire him for his resourcefulness and independence, which are two qualities that he also sees and admires in them.
While he could take up gambling as a regular hustle, Malcolm wants to do something that will allow him to make enough money to support Shorty as well, who is living as a starving musician. He proposes they get into house burglary, and to his surprise, Shorty agrees. Shorty also brings in his friend Rudy.
Malcolm may see himself as a predator, but if so, he’s more of a lion king than a lone wolf. His sense of responsibility for Shorty is quite touching and shows how much he values their friendship.
Rudy is a mixed-race, good-looking guy. He works as a waiter, but also has a side hustle satisfying the desires of an elderly white man. Rudy would undress them both, carry the man to his bed, and then sprinkle him in talcum powder, causing him to orgasm. Naturally, Malcolm and Rudy swap stories about the things they’ve seen.
While Malcolm tells several stories of strange sexual fetishes, this is certainly one of the strangest. Its racial overtones, however, make it for Malcolm not only strange, but unacceptable.
Having learned from the best, Malcolm insists that the group take their time and carefully plan their jobs. He insists they find an area to work in and stick to it, and that they only work at night, as Malcolm’s light skin and tall stature are quite conspicuous. Realizing that they need someone to scout out good targets in rich neighborhoods, Malcolm decides they should bring in Sophia and Sophia’s sister, who instantly agree. Then they decide to rent a place in Harvard Square that can act as their base of operations. Meanwhile, Malcolm finds a “fence” (someone who will buy their stolen merchandise) for their goods.
Malcolm’s organizational skills tell the reader two things. First, they attest to his thorough experience with burglary and other criminal operations from his time in Harlem. Second, they offer a glimpse of how effective Malcolm will be as a leader in the Nation of Islam, when he will be orchestrating the spreading of the faith throughout multiple cities.
At their first meeting, they devise a plan. Sophia and Sophia’s sister will pose as saleswomen or college students, and they’ll look around the home once invited inside. Malcolm, Rudy, and Shorty will handle the actual burglaries, with two inside and one waiting in the getaway car.
Their roles not only reflect their varying skill sets, but the ways the crew members are seen in society. Only Sophia and her sister could be welcomed into nice neighborhoods without suspicion.
In order to establish himself as the boss of the crew, Malcolm puts on a show for the others. He removes the bullets from his revolver, then puts one back. He twirls the cylinder, places the gun to his temple, and pulls the trigger. He does this three times in all to show that he is fearless and they should never cross him—and they never do. (Malcolm later reveals that he had palmed the bullet.)
When working on the train, Malcolm and the crew had played into racial stereotypes to earn bigger tips. Now, Malcolm plays into his image as a “crazy animal” to display his dominance and assure control over the group.
The group’s first target is the old man Rudy works for. Everything goes as smooth as clockwork, and the old man later tells Rudy that the cops suspect a gang which had been in Boston for a year. Their next jobs continue to go smoothly, as the girls are freely shown into people’s houses. The families are often home when the burglars enter, but Malcolm assures the reader that it is much simpler than it sounds. And while they are making good money, especially on Oriental rugs, they are still aware that their “fence” is surely making much more profit than they are.
In Harlem, most of the businesses were owned by white owners who then hired black managers to act as the face of the business. In burglary and in the numbers business, the people making most of the money are the bankers and fences, usually white people, while the black hustlers in Harlem and Roxbury take most of the risks.
Their only close brush with the police occurs as they make their getaway one night, and a police car flashes behind them. As he did once before, Malcolm gets out and asks for directions to Roxbury, and the police give him directions and drive off. Malcolm remarks that white men never believe a black man would be bold enough or smart enough to try and trick them.
Malcolm’s contempt for the police and their presumptions is very noticeable. It might be fair to say that he can barely imagine a white man whom he couldn’t fool.
Everything is going well for the crew. Sophia and Sophia’s sister still go with Malcolm to see Shorty and his shows, and then they all smoke reefers back at Malcolm or Shorty’s apartment. Malcolm notes how Shorty is so obsessed with his girlfriend and her white skin that even if the lights are out, he opens the window shade to see her skin by the streetlight.
The way Malcolm describes it, Shorty seems to be obsessed with the white color of Sophia’s sister’s skin. For Malcolm, this obsession is rooted in years of conditioning by society which tells us that white is inherently more beautiful than black.
Malcolm spends a lot of his time before and after jobs in the Savoy club, so that people questioned will always be able to say they saw him in there around the time of the crime. One day while there, he receives a call from Sophia, but Turner, a black detective who hates Malcolm, answers it instead. Malcolm and Turner then exchange veiled threats and Turner backs down.
Malcolm’s interaction with Turner recalls his interaction with Archie. Both know that the other is very dangerous, but neither is willing to make the first move. Instead, they simply content themselves with threats, perhaps secretly hoping to avoid violence.
Malcolm begins to use drugs with so much frequency and quantity that it starts to cloud his judgment. One night, Sophia and Sophia’s sister unwillingly come to a bar with the best friend of Sophia’s husband, who wanted to see the black ghetto. Malcolm, high, barges up to their table, making it obvious they know each other and ousting Sophia.
As with the days right before his escape to Boston from Harlem, Malcolm’s drug use is an attempt to block out his surrounding situation, and it works so well that he has trouble functioning in the world.
Later that night, the friend shows up at their Harvard Square hideout, and Malcolm hides under the bed as he comes in. The man finds Malcolm, and they talk a little. While nothing happens, Malcolm’s relationship with Sophia is obvious. Malcolm is concerned by how thoughtless he was in hiding under a bed, and without his gun, no less.
When compared to how much precaution Malcolm took in avoiding police detection while selling reefers, it’s telling that his mind is no longer sharp enough to protect him in a possibly violent situation.
Two days later, Malcolm goes to pick up a stolen watch he had taken for a repair. As the repairman knew the watch was stolen, the police were alerted and a trap was set for Malcolm. After Malcolm pays, an officer emerges from the back. Then another black man walks into the store, and the officer briefly turns his back on Malcolm—but rather than reaching for his gun, Malcolm freely tells the cop to take it from him. Unbeknownst to him, two other cops had him covered the whole time, so his decision not only earned him the cops’ respect, but saved his life.
Reflecting on this moment, Malcolm believes that only Allah saved him from death. Given the amount of drugs he was taking and the “predatory” state he had fallen into, it was truly a miracle that he didn’t reach for his gun to try and kill the officer.
If the cops hadn’t picked Malcolm up for the watch, then he may have died that day. While he was being taken to the station, Sophia’s husband had come to the apartment with a gun, looking to kill Malcolm.
Of every threat on his life so far, this day’s double threat may have been the most dangerous thus far – and the threats will only grow larger.
The girls were soon picked up after the cops got Malcolm’s address from some of his papers, and Shorty was then arrested while performing. They tried to get Rudy, but he managed to get out of Boston in time, an escape that has always marveled Malcolm.
Malcolm’s writing style here reflects that of a crime-beat journalist, reporting the facts in a matter-of-fact way.
All in all, burglary was not a very serious crime, with the average sentence for first time offenders being only two years. The police and the social workers were mostly concerned that Sophia and Sophia’s sister, two well-to-do white women, were sexually involved with two black men. Even Malcolm’s own court-appointed lawyers were outraged by this.
After Malcolm has reaped the benefits from his relationship with Sophia for so long, and Shorty has enjoyed his own interracial romance, they are now both forced to pay the price for those socially taboo relationships. The racist and sexist mentality of whites at the time is still very preoccupied with “protecting” white women from black men.
Malcolm addresses the reader, saying that he has not shared these details of his life to excite or entertain anyone. On the contrary, he sees it strictly as necessary to understanding who he is as a person today to see where he has come from. The main point of the narrative until now is to show that he had fallen to the lowest point possible in society.
The reader should take this passage seriously, as Malcolm the narrator’s chief mission in life is to preach and spread the truth of black oppression. However, certain passages above also may show that Malcolm has a certain nostalgia for those days.