As Jamal and Detective Rourke continued to try staring each other down, he noticed the hint of a shoulder holster inside the officer’s blazer. “I think it’s gonna be me going back out to be with my girl,” he said with a stoic tone. When he started to walk out again Rourke grabbed him by the elbow with a look on his face that most New York cops master while they’re still in uniform busting corner thugs. Jamal was about to snatch his arm away when three guys walked into the bathroom and froze with puzzled expressions at the sight. Jamal smiled inside as opportunity smiled on him as his face morphed to sheer horror and he screamed “I swear on my momma officer I got yo money — just don’t shoot me!”


Caught off-guard by the comment, Rourke paused in shock. He looked up in time to see the last of the three guys disappear through the door as it slowly closed. Unknown to Jamal, Detective Rourke was there undercover on another case. With a single move his cover had been compromised. He was alone and deep undercover on a boat posing as a fence for stolen goods as part of a sting operation to take down another crew that also hailed from Queensbridge. In a weird way he had a newfound respect for Jamal’s almost brilliant timing. He was also pissed at himself for even approaching Jamal at all given the circumstances. Spinning in his own thoughts about how to handle this turn of events, his grasp loosened enough for Jamal to slip away.


“We’ll talk soon,” Jamal said with a strange air of utmost respect as he went for the door, “But it won’t be tonight.”


Back out on the dance floor, as couples slow danced to an old-school jam Jamal eased his way to the deejay booth. He got the deejay’s attention and said “Tell security there’s a man coming out of the bathroom with a gun.”


“A wha–? A gun?” the deejay replied as he leaned over the CD turntables.


Jamal spotted Detective Rourke coming out of the bathroom then pointed at him and shouted “Gun!”


A few couples within earshot heard the word ‘Gun’ and saw Detective Rourke walking across the dance floor. The deejay turned on the mic then shouted over the song “Security — Code 13! Code 13!” And when a few of the couples heard that they looked at him as they moved off the dance floor, setting off a chain reaction for others to start looking around. Just as Detective Rourke got a few yards away from Jamal several plain-clothes security appeared and tackled the detective from the side. Chaos erupted on the dance floor as Jamal quietly slipped into the stairwell, took off his coat then ran upstairs to the upper deck and back to Leila.


“You were gone long enough. Everything come out aight?” she mumbled with a hint of an attitude. The anticipation of Jamal possibly proposing to her had turned to simmering beginnings of anxious aggravation, a testament to the adage it’s never good to leave a woman waiting.


A throng of couples appeared on the deck. Half-conversations about a fight with a man with a gun caught Leila’s attention. “What’s going on?”


“Just some craziness downstairs,” Jamal calmly said as he pulled her close. “Some fools always gotta ruin it for err’body.”


As Jamal struggled with whether or not to ask for Leila’s hand in marriage he pulled her closer. Something shattered downstairs as a woman screamed in horror. Random voices responded with rude profanity somewhere. “What in the world is goin’ on?” Leila asked as she tried to look over her shoulder.


Jamal pulled her close in a loving embrace and tucked his coat further into the pit of his chair. “Don’t worry ’bout tit,” he replied, praying that the madness didn’t reach their deck. The ring felt like it going to jump out of his pocket on its own. The only thing between him and his marriage proposing was knowing that Detective Rourke could pop up there at any second. The last thing he wanted was for some angry detective to come up and hassle them and put a permanent scar on what is supposed to be one of the most precious moments of their lives. Just then, a security guard emerged from the steps.


As the guard slowly scanned the deck, Jamal’s stomach began to bubble. What next?, he thought as he felt the nerves of steel he had put to use that afternoon at the Poker table start to slip away. He noticed two things: the boat was a few minutes away from the dock and that there were about half a dozen guys on the deck that could pass for him from behind, all in formal suits and huddled close to women wearing evening gowns. When the guard began inspecting the other couples from a distance, irrational panic began to sweep him inside. He needed a diversion but wasn’t sure what to do: Grab Leila and leave the deck? Start an argument with her? Jump overboard? As the guard approached Jamal looked deep into Leila’s eyes, prayed for the best and pulled her close as he did something he knew she detested in public — gave her a long, sensuous French kiss.


Walking in their direction, the guard hesitated. Jamal could almost feel the man’s stare as Leila was caught between pulling away and sinking deep into their intimate moment. The guard rolled his eyes then walked on by, mumbling into his headset that the upper deck was clear.


Feeling incredibly horny, Leila pulled away from Jamal in shock, secretly fearing that she’d lose control of herself and tear his clothes off during the cab ride home. “What was up with that? You been drinking?” she said almost as a reflex. His kiss was so out of character that she interpreted the move as a possible play to get some booty.


“I… Uh… What?” Jamal replied, slightly stunned by her response. Far below, the deejay declared last song of the night.


Her thoughts strayed to her questions about how the chaos in his professional life over the past month had affected him. Maybe his recent corporate failures really had changed him in some ugly way. “The fact that you don’t know let’s me know that I thought I understood you,” Leila whispered as she caressed his hand. “I love you with all my heart. I also know you’ve been going through some things on campus and all. But I … I think you’ve been changing. We need to talk — sometime this week or whenever.”


“I… I can’t believe this,” he snapped. “I’m doing everything I can for You… For both of us!”


A heated argument erupted, so much ado about nothing that both were confused about what they were arguing about or the points they were trying to make. The real reasons were simple: Afraid to ruin his surprise by telling her what he’d been through since his business meeting in the Bronx, Jamal avoided anything that alluded to his marriage proposal plans. Afraid of being wrong about her suspicion that he was going to ask for hand in marriage, Leila skirted around her true feelings as well. Before they noticed the time, the boat’s horn blew as it pulled into the dock.


On the verge of tears, Leila courteously asked to be excused and said that she needed to be alone. Unsure of how to respond, Jamal was ready to scream — it seemed like every time he had things all figured out, something crazy happened. He stood before her, both angry and feeling like his heart was about to break as he nodded and stared out at the Bay. “Go to the dark green Lincoln Continental gypsy cab out there. He’s waiting to give us a ride home. Tell him I got held up and I said to hook you up.”


“I can’t do that,” You need to get home too.”


“Paulie’s already taken care of,” he replied. “He lives on my block. I’ve already arranged to pay him tomorrow. He’ll take you anywhere you need to go and I’ll take care of it.”


Leila kissed Jamal on the cheek. Afraid of screwing up anymore than he already had, he returned the kiss and continued to stare out at the water as she walked away. The boat quiet as the distant chatter of people flooded out onto the pier. Before he knew it he stood alone on the upper deck, searching for answers as to what had just happened. It was times like that he wished his grandfather or even his brother Justin was still alive. Another security guard arrived at the top of the steps then politely let him know it was time to leave just as Paulie’s green Lincoln Continental came into view, cruising slowly along the dock toward the boulevard.


“Whatcho doin’, man?” he could almost hear Justin’s voice say in the breeze. “You lettin’ her get away?”


Realizing his big mistake, he sprinted past the guard, downstairs, and off the boat. In mid stride while running along the dock a loud female voice startled him. “Ay! Jamal! Jamal Washington!


Suddenly he tripped over an invisible crack, airborne and then tumbling on the pavement like a Hollywood stunt man. A few people in the distance howled with mocking laughter. Quick to play it off he scrambled to his feet as he looked around to see who called his name.


“Serves you right!” the voice shouted. Back over by the boat a female in an evening gown came into view beneath a lamp pole.


“Leila?” he whispered. When the figure stopped, crossed her arms and stood there waiting for him to make the walk back, he knew it was her.


He couldn’t help but grin as he jogged over and hugged her tight. “Baby, I’m so sorry. I – I thought you left with Paulie — what happened?”


She pursed her lips, trying to act unimpressed by him sprinting off the boat and busting his tail chasing after her. “When he opened the door his ride reeked of weed so I told him to go on. Besides, you were trippin’ — and you ain’t gettin’ off easy. We’re not goin’ home until we work this out.”


Jamal nodded repeatedly as he nonchalantly wrapped his coat over his forearm until he felt the ring box in his grasp through the fabric. Slowly he locked his fingers around the precious gift as if it contained his soul. On more than a few occasions his father told him it was smart to concede and lose an argument instead of fighting to be right — and that night he was okay with taking the blame. “It’s not too late to go somewhere else,” he said, prepared to wait for another special moment to propose. “The city is ours tonight.”


Leila maintained a stone face. “That sounds good to me,” she sternly replied as she braced herself on Jamal’s shoulder and massaged some stiffness out of her heels. “Because your girl is broke and if I had to take the train home alone tonight you were really gonna get dealt with.”


They looked at each other with an awkward pause then laughed. Leila began to joke Jamal about how fast he was going when he tripped; he laughed and blamed his hard-soled shoes. Together, beneath the lights of the Manhattan skyline they strolled off into the distance in search of a cab and points unknown.