Trouble in Harlem has a certain smell, Pop wants Cottonmouth to remember his history, and Luke has had a long day.
After defending his landlady and her restaurant, Genghis Connie’s, from Cottonmouth’s thugs, Luke walks into Pop’s with a renewed sense of purpose. But the day’s discussions of African American literature and comic book heroes is cut short when Cottonmouth steps in for a shave. It’s no secret that Cottonmouth and his men have been after Chico, and continue their search at Pop’s. Once their gone, Pop begs Luke to find Chico and bring him back to the shop to protect him.
Cottonmouth and Luke aren’t the only ones looking for Chico. Det. Misty Knight and her partner Det. Scarfe have been combing the neighborhood for any sign of Chico, stopping at the favored basketball court that Chico has been known to play at. His friends aren’t forthcoming of his whereabouts, so Misty proposes a game of Horse; if she wins, they tell her what they know about Chico. The other players feel confident in their skills until Misty takes the court, matching them shot for shot. Misty reminds them she wasn’t always a detective, and used to run that same court when she was younger.
It takes little time for Luke to find Chico hiding in a cheap motel. He asks Chico to come back to the shop with him, to let Pop protect him, but he seems determined to take care of himself. Pop is disappointed in Chico’s response when Luke returns, reminiscing about his younger days running with a young Cottonmouth and Wilfredo, Chico’s father. To Pop’s relief, though, Chico has a change of heart and returns to the shop. While Pop works to hide Chico from prying eyes, Luke delivers Pop’s message to Cottonmouth; Pop wants to parlay for Chico’s life. Cottonmouth agrees to meet the next day. Before the meeting, however, Hell’s Kitchen’s own Turk Barrett sees Chico in the shop, and informs one of Cottonmouth’s men, Tone, who acts on the information, shooting up Pop’s Barbershop, Luke only having a moment to react and protect a young boy who was getting his haircut. Pretending to be dead, Tone and Shades walk through the shop, stepping over Pop and Chico’s bodies to retrieve Chico’s bag of money, taking it back to Cottonmouth.
With his actions protecting Ghengis Connie’s (and can we just take a moment to appreciate that name?), Luke is ready to stop running and hiding from his past. He takes the first steps from transitioning from a passive observer, keeping his head down, to finally standing up and trying to make a difference. As Pop tells him, “Boys run. Men stand.” But his resolve is strengthened with Pop’s murder. Even if Cottonmouth himself is angered at his death, Luke has a now has a target. But Pop wasn’t just a friend to Luke and Cottonmouth, but a fixture of Harlem, doing what he can to make a difference with the youth of the community, so they don’t go down the same destructive path that Pop did that landed him in prison. Everyone seems to know Pop, and his death, and the destruction of his shop, will be felt throughout the Harlem.