The sounds of pencil on paper. Scribbles. A leaky faucet, somewhere. Soft but scratchy breathing.
“Does this look good?”
“I can’t tell what I’m looking at, here.”
“That’s your head, here’s your arms, and the back part flows to there, past the legs.”
“Wow. You can’t draw, like at all.”
D made a shocked face, pulling her sketchbook close to her chest and turning away from me.
We were in D’s apartment. Yesterday had seemingly gone in different directions for both me and D, so we decided to follow Lawrence’s example and take the rest of the day off. I desperately needed a shower after chasing Arturo, and fending off that dog before that. I also had laundry I wanted to take care of. I was ready to get to work, but a small break wouldn’t hurt.
But, of all the places to get some work done, it had to be here.
The dust, the dirt, the everything. There was no order or cleanliness to be found, here.
D was sitting on the couch, erasing what she had drawn in her notebook. The couch was probably the cleanest thing in the apartment, but I still couldn’t get myself to take a seat there. I remained standing.
I moved away from the couch, stepping over a rag on the floor. It hadn’t rained in some time, but it was wet.
Yesterday, I had desperately needed a shower. And today, I felt like I needed another one.
What a dump, I thought, but I kept that comment to myself.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t make a comment at all.
“You should really do some cleaning in here.”
“You forget that I’m not the only one living here.”
I looked over to Macy. She was huddled in one corner of the living room, clutching at blankets, her grip tight, even though she was sleeping.
It seemed like it pained her to be unconscious.
“Still, you’ve never considered moving out? You found a place for me just fine.”
“Sure, I can, but I want to keep an eye on Macy as much as possible, you know?”
D lifted her pencil away from her sketchbook. She looked over to see Macy.
“Who else is going to do it?”
I gave Macy a second glance. She hadn’t moved. If I concentrated, I could hear her soft, raspy breathing, her lips slightly parted, drool trailing down corner of her mouth.
I recalled D mentioning having other business outside of the Ghosts. She never specified, but I still made that connection.
Never mind. There were more important things to be thinking about.
I decided to comment on something else, instead.
“Back when you did have school, you never had a fun day where you got to draw or do some coloring?”
D let her jaw drop, leaving it hanging. Still holding her pencil, she balled up her hand and swiped at my leg. I moved back just in time. She missed.
“Oh my gosh, get off my case about that!”
“I’m just saying, if you want to communicate your ideas properly, being able to draw is a useful way for others to visualize what you’re going for.”
“Shut the heck up!”
She tried to get me again, but I was too far. I backed up some more, going around the table in front of the couch, putting it between me and her.
“You’ll have to try harder than that to get me,” I said, feeling smug.
“Just you wait,” D said with a warning tone. She brought her head down, staring at me from behind her bangs. There was a look of mischief in her eyes. “I’ll get you back for this.”
“I’d like to see you try.”
D made a noise, blowing a puff of air. Her bangs flew up, then landed back into her eyes. She shook her head as she went back to her sketchbook, erasing the drawing.
Teasing D, it’d be a lie to say that I didn’t get a kick out of it, but I recognized that there was a limit.
“Drawing skills or no,” I said, “I still got what you were going for. It’s not a bad look, I might be able to pull it off.”
D bobbed her head back up, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “You think so?”
I nodded. “Definitely.”
With more fervor than before, she returned to her sketchbook. Not to erase, but to draw.
I turned around to face the wall behind me, to do some drawing as well.
We needed writing utensils, and D had mentioned that one of her next door neighbors had a box full of chalk, and they were more than willing to trade for a quick score. It didn’t take long to come to an agreement with him.
We didn’t have a chalkboard to write on, but D didn’t care about leaving marks on the wall on the opposite side of the couch. I did, however, I wanted to try and not make this place even more of a mess. But, it would have taken us longer to find a chalkboard, and we would have less space to write on. I settled for using the wall. It was a small compromise.
One the left side of the wall, starting from as high as I could reach without straining myself, was the list of gangs that were taking advantage of the Ghosts and their deals. I wrote in big letters, so D could read it from where she was sitting. The list of names still went down to my waist, and I had to start another column to get everything down. One and a half columns. A lot of names.
“To be completely honest,” I said, “This is way more than I was expecting.”
“How many were you expecting?”
“I don’t know, ten at least? This is… This almost makes me question how good a leader Lawrence actually is.”
“Consider the position he was in at the time. His gang was an offshoot of a small, controversial gang, with that gang’s name being dragged through the mud each day, thanks to its leader. And that mud splattered onto him, too, affecting his business. Do you think you could have done a better job?”
“I don’t think that at all. I wouldn’t want to have been in his shoes back then.”
“There you go,” D said.
“Fine, he did what he could. Moving on, where do we start?” I pressed the chalk into the wall, but I didn’t move it. Keeping it in place, I turned, letting D get a good look at the list.
She was staring at it, her eyes squinted, her lips puckered, with her pencil balancing on her upper lip.
She tried talking like that, but her words came out a murmured mess.
“Of course,” I said. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
“Blah.” D dropped the pencil into her lap. “Let’s start by crossing off who we can’t go after.”
“We’re picking off the smaller, weaker groups, right? If we try to punch above our weight class, we’re going to get knocked back down, powers or no. We build up to the bigger targets, and, depending on how well we do on way, it might not even necessary to check off the whole list.”
“We’ll have gotten big enough, and we can establish ourselves through other avenues. Good point.”
D picked up her pencil, using it to point at the list.
“AZ-Tec, take them off.”
Second column, third from the top. I lifted my chalk and crossed them off.
“That bad?” I asked.
“Along with the Cobras, they’re one of the biggest cartels in the city. Unless you want an all-out war, we will not pick a fight with those guys. Never ever.”
“Maybe we want that,” I said, grinning.
I saw D smile, too, exposing the gap in her teeth. I wasn’t sure about her actual age, but she was old enough to have lost all of her baby teeth already, so that gap wasn’t waiting for a tooth to fill it. She lost that tooth, somehow.
Another story, and I was curious to hear it.
But, now wasn’t the time for that.
“Let’s save that for the grand finale, then,” D said.
Grand finale. It sounded intriguing, but I would rather prefer a quieter way to spend the rest of my days, if such a thing was even possible.
“Maybe let’s put a pin on that. Any other gangs?”
D pointed. “Take off the West Sharks, and the Kung Fools.”
“Triad wannabes. They’ve been getting a lot of new members after what happened at the school. It’s a jokey name, but they had numbers before, and now they’re swelling. And, and I’m just saying this as a general rule, but let’s try not to stir up any more racial tensions, okay?”
I started crossing the names off. “No, you’re right. That’s a powder keg we don’t want to keep relying on. This plan’s risky enough, let’s not add to it.”
The tensions D was referring to, they were useful for giving me an out. Day by day, there was another attack or assault against a portion of the population. They were no longer isolated incidents, they were statistics. One more incident wasn’t going to attract much attention towards itself, rather it would add to the numbers. It was easy for me to slip through those cracks.
But, making those cracks wider was asking for everything to crumble and fall apart. The city didn’t need another riot.
Hit hard, but hit from the dark. The shadows.
“Anyone else?” I asked.
“Let’s try narrowing it down some. Cross out any names of people and individuals.”
That was about a third of the remaining names.
“John, Ashley, Herbert,” I said, crossing names out as I read them out loud. “You’re all spared. Lucky you.”
“Conversely, those targets are too small to get anything that’s worth the trouble.”
“Arturo and his group were a good test, but yes, let’s go bigger than that. So, who can we target?”
“Let’s see… oh, there!”
D lifted her pencil, and I tried to follow where she was pointing to.
“Where?” I asked again.
“Right there, the Thunders and the Royals!”
I saw Thunders in the first column, the Royals in the second.
“Can’t say I’ve heard of them,” I said. “What’s with the excitement?”
“Together, they’re about as big as the Kung Fools, before the added membership in recent weeks. Not huge, but they do have a presence, more than us, to be honest.”
“That’s why we’re doing this,” I said. “Tell me more.”
“They both hold territory on the west side, not quite in the city, but they’re close. ”
I felt a slight disappointment. “I’d like to go after a group that’s closer to the Eye.”
“They’re close. And there’s a particular reason why I’m suggesting them both at the same time.”
“They’ve got beef with each other, and it runs deep. I don’t know the full story, but I know enough of the pieces. The leaders of the two gangs are brothers, and there was some fall out between them, and something about a girl…”
“I get it,” I said.
“Whether that girl actually existed or not is relevant, but there is a feud between those brothers, to the point that they can just barely stand each other. It wouldn’t take much for a petty squabble to blow up out of proportion.”
“And they both have the unlucky coincidence of having done business with the Ghosts,” I said.
D nodded. “If we play this right, we can kill two birds with one stone. Spark a conflict that swallows them both up in flames, and the Ghosts can pick up whatever’s left over from the ashes.”
“That is a good reason to pick these guys.”
I circled both names, drawing a line to connect them together. I reached down for a box of extra chalk. I grabbed a new stick, a new color. With my new chalk, I drew an ‘X’ over the line between them. Red.
“Taking them both out is one thing, but we can’t let things stop there,” I said. “We’ll have to find a way to throw me, V, into the mix.”
“Your alter ego?”
“Yup. It’s not enough to just take them both out, we need to have them running scared, too. Give them a story to tell, to warn others, letting my image build from just a rumor to an omen, a curse. A legend.”
“You think very highly of yourself, Wendy.”
“I kind of have to. If I can’t even do that, then how can I lead a gang, or even do this?”
I drew over the ‘X’ again, making the lines bolder.
Confidence. Fake it, if I have to.
“We’ll come up with something,” D said. “It would be boring if we don’t.”
“It would be pointless if we don’t,” I said, correcting her. “I’m not opposed to the Thunders and Royals for round one, though. Any ideas?”
D spun the pencil in between her fingers, then started tapping it on her cheek.
“None,” she said, a little too quickly.
“Well, we know where they are, we should probably scope out the place first, see how things are going over there.”
“Good thinking, I’m down. Oh, oh, can we do it all like undercover and stuff?”
“Like we’re spies, infiltrating the enemy base. We can use code names, and use a secret language in case we’re in a jam, so they don’t know what we’re saying. And we can name this operation too, like, maybe, ‘Operation Storm the Castle!’”
“Clever,” I said. “We don’t need to get that detailed though.”
“But I want to!”
“You need a TV in here or something.”
D rolled her eyes. “My imagination is better than anything a shiny box can come up with.”
I walked away from the list of gangs, moving over to a blank space on the wall.
“To move to another separate, but relevant topic,” I said, “We can swing by their territory after this. Now, I want to try and design a new costume.”
“That’s supposed to be my job!”
“I still get the final say,” I said, starting to make my own drawing. A circle, lines extending out of it. A stick figure.
“Oof,” I muttered, stepping away.
The circle was too large, the lines too short. If this was supposed to represent me, then my head was way too big for my body.
I heard D go into a fit of laughter.
“And you said that I can’t draw!”
“Quiet, I never claimed to be an artist,” I said, but she was laughing too hard, she couldn’t hear me.
D kept laughing, cackling. She was loving this.
I waited until she calmed herself down. I waited for a while.
“You done?” I asked, as she started to cool off. Another minute passed before she could answer.
“Just about. Whoa, you nearly killed me with that.”
“Let’s just start brainstorming.”
“Okay, okay. What are you trying to go for?”
I had thought about potential designs, before.
“I’m not sure. My first instinct is to go with the hooded look again, but maybe it’s better to switch things up, this time around.”
“I’m all for switching it up.”
“D, can I see your sketch again?”
“You mean my chicken scratch?” D said, giving me a sneering look, but she got to her feet, and started coming my way. She handed me her sketchbook as she got closer.
I took a look.
She had more time to work with this, and it still didn’t come out all that great. Not that I was in a position to judge, though.
So, what am I looking at, here?
I got the overall idea of the sketch. Covering the torso was a larger, box-like shape, which I could have interpreted as a heavy jacket, or even a poncho. The pants were just dark, sloppy lines coming out from the bottom of that box. The sketch could be wearing anything, there.
The face, however, was the hardest to understand. I couldn’t see anything resembling a mask, black lines scratched out where the eyes should be, but the nose, mouth, and hair were drawn on the face and head. Smears from eraser marks muddied whatever finer details were there. If there was supposed to be a mask, I didn’t see it.
I spoke my thoughts out loud.
“So, what am I looking at, here?”
D groaned, and put her finger on the paper, smearing the sketch even more.
“You were originally wearing a hood, here, but I decided to get rid of it.”
“Was that before or after I made fun of your drawing skills?”
“After. I erased it, but I couldn’t think what to do instead. And… actually I’m not sure about what you’re wearing.”
“Looks like a poncho, I can’t see my arms.”
A small pause.
“I forgot to draw them,” D said.
“D…” I said.
She made a smaller noise, then tried taking away the sketchbook from me. I tightened my grip. She couldn’t budge it.
“I’m not done yet,” I said. “A poncho might work, actually. I was considering it as part of a rough draft, sitting in the back of my head. If we do go that route, we’ll have to make adjustments to the length, so the fabric doesn’t get in the way of my arms, but I think the silhouette it creates would be effective against those who only get a glimpse of me.”
“Let their imaginations fill in the rest,” D ventured. “Now that sounds fun.”
“Could be.” I looked again at the paper, at the face. “I’d like a new mask, too.”
“I’ll leave that to you, I doubt I can come up with something you’ll like.”
“Don’t sell yourself so short, D.”
I moved the sketchbook, so the drawing was facing her.
“Can I keep this?”
D’s eyes darted from me to her sketchbook. A touch of embarrassment and concern.
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. I bet there’s something here I can work with.”
D moved her hand, swiping at the sketchbook. I lifted my arm up high, out of her reach.
“No fair!” she said, jumping after it, failing each time.
“It’s not that bad, D, seriously!”
I had to back up, or she’d be bump into me.
Another step, and I felt my back on the wall. All I had for extra distance was the length of my arm.
D was jumping, pushing to get closer, landing on my boots, stepping on them. Messing with her was fine and good, but I didn’t want to get dirt on my boots as a result.
I put my other hand on her shoulder, using just enough strength to push her back, and just on pressure to keep her still. I lowered my arm.
“Here,” I said, letting her take the sketchbook. “Don’t be such a kid.”
“I am a kid, and thank you very much,” she said, not sounding thankful in the slightest. She tore out the page the drawing was on, and handed it back.
“Thank you very much,” I said. I looked between D, the drawing and the stick figure on the wall. I’d have to come up with a design to fill the empty space. To put meat on those bones.
That can be next on the list.
I folded up the paper, sticking into my back pocket.
“Alright, we can deal with that later. Let’s check out the Thunders, and Royals, while we still have some daylight.”
D tossed her sketchbook and pencil across the room, hitting the couch cushions.
“Yes, please, I’m itching to be do some infiltration. Operation Storm the Castle is in effect!”
It didn’t take long to realize that we were out of place. Very out of place.
We weren’t sticking out, but we weren’t completely blending in. There was always going to be a risk, but being here, now? It was almost inevitable. We were in the minority.
D and I were at a basketball court, sitting on the bottom of a set of metal bleachers, watching others play. In the west side, not quite in the city, but we were close.
The court was split up into two groups, easy to distinguish by the colors they wore. The right side were all decked in blue, the other side were in white. The Thunders, and the Royals.
Each gang kept to themselves, playing on their own side of the court. They were careful, skilled enough to not let their ball slip away and roll over to the opposing side. If a ball slipped out of someone’s hands, rolling away, everyone on that side would stop what they were doing to secure it, make sure it didn’t go across the court. They’d stop the ball, pick it up, and start the game up again once everyone was alright. A tense, forced version of peace.
If I can call this peace.
Other people were sitting on the bleachers, wearing colors that weren’t blue or white. If they hadn’t been around, I doubted that we could be sitting here with little to no trouble.
The middle of January, the middle of winter, but it was warm enough that wearing a light jacket was okay. By pure coincidence, I was matching with D. I wasn’t wearing a choker, however.
The weather was fair, not a single cloud in the sky, but D still found it necessary to lean on my arm, huddling up close. If she leaned on me even more I would have fallen over.
“You don’t need to be so close,” I said, my eyes still on the court.
D was watching them, too. “I don’t need to be so close, but I want to.”
Not much else I could say against that.
“We’re here,” I said, changing topics. “Do you see anything interesting?”
“I see a lot of interesting things. The Thunders and the Royals are tolerating each other. Seems this basketball court is neutral territory.”
“Are there other places that could be considered neutral territory?”
“Possibly, but this is the most notable one.”
“So, if anything were to spark up here…”
“Not a bad place to start a wildfire,” D said. I didn’t have a good look at her face, but I could imagine her smiling as she said it.
Blow it all up.
“Any key players, here?” I asked. I examined the different faces, searching for who might be worth paying attention to. Worth targeting.
“Pretty much all the big name people came out to play today. I don’t want to point at them directly, so you’ll just have to follow my gaze.”
Don’t stick out, as much as possible. Blend in.
“Starting with the Thunders… see that skinny guy? He has the ball… oh, he missed.”
“I see him.”
“That’s the leader, brother number one. Easy.”
“No, that’s his name. ‘E’ and ‘Z.’”
“He facilitated the deal with the Ghosts, way back. Five grand, five kilos.”
“I’m still new to this, so I can’t tell if that’s a lot, or not.”
D craned her head, a slight angle, looking across the court.
“And the guy with the hat, gold on his wrist?”
“Can’t miss that. It’s reflecting into my eye.”
“Brother number two. Name’s Crown.”
“That’s it? No weird interpolation?”
“It’s spelled with a ‘K.’”
“There it is.”
“His deal is exact same as EZ. Five and five.”
“Brother’s think alike, then.”
“If we want to spark anything, it’s going to have to happen between those two. Flick one of them behind the ear, duck out of sight before they turn around, and watch as they smack up whoever they believe to be the culprit.”
“You’ve done this before,” I said, no longer impressed. I expected her to be an expert at raising trouble, by now.
“Something like this. Not to this magnitude, and definitely not for a reason.”
It’s like she was made to raise hell.
I straightened my shoulders, inadvertently pushing D up and away.
“We’ve got visual on the leaders, we’ve know where they’re literally willing to play ball. What’s next… We should probably find out where they stash their, our stuff. So we know where we can hit.”
“Yes, yes,” D said, stroking her chin. “More infiltration.”
I about to tell her to stop saying that, but it was probably best to keep her entertained. Framing this as a game would keep her focused on the task at hand, keep her in line.
I had thought about what Lawrence had said about her yesterday, and what I had already seen for myself. If she saw all of this as a game, then I’d better make it a fun one for her.
“You know, on the way, I was thinking of a code name for you.”
D directed her full attention to me. “You did?”
“I did, but I’ll tell you somewhere else. Right now, we should-”
Something bumped into my leg.
I glanced down.
I felt my heart skip a beat.
I looked back up. I could feel the stares.
Everyone from both gangs, standing in place, heads directed towards me, towards D. They were watching, studying us, waiting for what our move would be. We weren’t exactly on the court, but the ball was with us.
Watching, studying, waiting. It was quiet.
Clues. I tried finding the other ball. I saw it… right on the half-court line. It could belong to either side. Fuck.
Watching, studying, waiting.
“D,” I said, my voice low. “Whose ball is this?”
“I wasn’t looking, I don’t know.”
“I feel like… we have to be very careful in who we choose.”
“Yeah. Or else…”
Or else we end up sparking something, now.
It would certainly be bad timing.
I examined their faces, looking at people from both gangs. Watching, waiting. Nothing in their expressions suggested anything, nothing I could glean. It was as if they were purposely making this difficult for me. Like they were in on a grand joke or prank.
Fuck all of you.
Careful, cautious, I lifted my leg, kicking the ball closer to me. I slowly bent down to grab the ball. No one moved.
If we weren’t sitting on the bottom of the bleachers, we probably wouldn’t be in this predicament.
Too late to do anything about that, now.
“Stay here,” I whispered to D. “If anything happens, I’ll come back for you. Even if it means having use a bit of my power.”
“Okay,” was all she whispered back. She didn’t object at the idea of me using my strength as a potential escape. This could be a matter of life and death. We’d have to do what we could, if it meant surviving to see another day.
I picked up the ball, and I stood up.
I watched them as they watched me. I walked forward, along the line down the middle of the court, towards the other ball. Putting myself in the middle of everything, everyone, into the thick of the situation.
The silence stretched as I stopped, surrounded by the Thunders and the Royals. Blue and white.
None of them were going to offer a hint or clue. I’d have to take a stab at it.
I lifted the ball, over my head.
“Um, someone dropped their ball, does anyone know who it belongs to?”
There was a very long, very quiet, very wordless minute.
I didn’t know which way to look, how to stand so my backside wasn’t exposed to so many people.
I had powers, but I wasn’t looking for a fight. Not here, not now. If a fight broke out, we’d lose out on progress, a way forward. Had to avoid that.
I heard footsteps.
From both sides, a person approached. EZ and Krown.
They came up to me, blocking my left and right. I could take a step back, but there was no point in doing so.
It struck me, how tall they were. If I didn’t have powers, I would legitimately feel intimidated.
I brought down my arms, keeping the ball between me and them, as if it could actually shield me.
“Hello,” I said, trying to sound warm. Trying.
Neither of them answered.
I had to keep trying.
“This ball, it got kicked over to me. I wanted to, um, give it back to whoever it belongs to.”
“That’s your ball, little lady.”
EZ answered, and that answer threw me off. For a skinny guy, his voice was deep.
“Sorry, but I don’t think that’s right,” I said. “I never had any balls.”
I bit my tongue.
Nice wording, Wendy.
They both chuckled.
“Where you from…” Krown started, and a pause followed. And then I realized that he was asking for my name.
“Wendy,” I offered.
“Okay, Wendy, let me ask you again. Where are you from?”
I had to play along. “I’m from East Stephenville.”
EZ’s eyebrows shot upward. “We don’t get a lot of Eastside peeps come around these parts. Why you in town, lil’ Wendy?”
“And who’s your little friend?” Krown asked, glancing behind me, to D.
“Know anyone here?”
“You reppin’ a crew?”
I started, “I, um…”
Too many questions to answer. And I knew why they were taking this approach. Hammering at me, making me uncomfortable, putting me on my heels.
I was the foreigner to this part of the city, the minority. I was always going to stand out. These two gangs were apparently beefing with each other, but they were willing to work together to grill an outsider.
I gave the best answer I could.
“I’m just hanging out with my friend, just passing through. I’m not with a gang.”
A truth, a half-truth, and an outright lie. But it should have covered all everything they had asked me.
“Ain’t nobody just ‘passing through’ here,” EZ said. “If you here, then you got a reason.”
“You sound suspect, lil’ Wendy, and that upsets me,” Krown said. “You like the Feds. Are you with the Feds, homie?”
This is not going well.
I wanted to look at D, for some sort of guidance, but I didn’t want to turn my back to these guys. I had to handle this on my own.
Confidence, even if I had to fake it.
“I’m definitely not with the Feds, believe me. I really am just like you. I’m normal.”
Now that was a lie.
“You think we normal?” Krown questioned.
“As normal as you are,” I said.
“Okay, I feel you.”
Krown was the first to break away from our formation, moving to his side of the court. He motioned for me to follow.
I heard more footsteps. EZ, and the others in his gang, were coming too. They were crossing the line.
Krown stopped at the freethrow line, looking at me, and the net, made of broken metal chains.
“Yo, EZ!” he called out.
“How many shots can you make?”
“Shit, I can do thirty in a row, man.”
“I can do one more on you.”
“Hell yeah, brother.”
Krown then pointed at me, the gold on his wrist getting in my eye again. “That’s about normal between me and my bro. Match us, and we cool.”
Again, I bit my tongue until it hurt.
“Thirty shots?” I asked. “In a row?”
Krown nodded, and pointed to the freethrow line.
There was no way I could object. The Thunders and the Royals came around me, wanting to get a good spot to watch. I felt a hand touch my back. A push.
I was forced to step up to the freethrow line. No way I could object, now.
I can’t believe this is happening.
I had the ball in my hands, the board and net ahead of me. Around me were the Thunders and the Royals, taunting and prodding me to shoot. Couldn’t see D.
If this was volleyball, I could probably tap into those skills, but this wasn’t-
“You gonna shoot or what?” EZ asked, standing by Krown, now, close to the net. “Better shoot in three seconds, or I’m shootin’ you.”
Fuck, fuck me.
No time to think, or even assume a decent position.
I shot the basketball.
Eye on the target, arms following through with the motion, guessing what stance I was supposed to assume.
My heart thumped in my chest. Fast and hard.
The ball moved through the air as if it was in slow motion.
It hit the backboard. The ball dropped.
Before my heart could drop, too, the ball went into the rim, the metal chains rattling after it passed through.
I breathed out, relieved.
The other people watching responded too. They sounded impressed. To me, anyways.
Krown stepped ahead to catch the ball.
“Good shot,” he said. He passed the ball back to me, hard. It hit me as I caught it.
“Now do it again.”
“You got three seconds,” EZ said.
Come the fuck on.
I had to do this twenty nine more times?
No, I couldn’t be negative about this. I made it once, and I had muscle memory. I just had to copy the motion, and it’d only get easier each time. Like practicing, and I could do it perfect.
I could do it.
Time’s ticking, Wendy.
Eye on the target, arms following through with the motion, easier this time.
The ball moved through the air, slow.
It hit the backboard, the ball dropping.
It bounced off the rim.
It landed elsewhere. Nowhere near the net.
My heart dropped.
I blew it.
Everyone was pointing, laughing. Ridiculing me. I didn’t even feel humiliated. No, feeling humiliated would be too shallow. I was dejected, that I had cost us the game before we officially started.
Krown caught the ball, joining in the laughter. So was EZ.
Still enjoying themselves at my expense, they approached me again.
I stood my ground, even though I didn’t have ground to stand on.
“For a quick minute,” Krown said, “I thought you might actually make it. But nah.”
“Nah!” EZ vocalized.
I tried to speak, but my throat was caught. I had to swallow before I could try again.
“I gave it a shot,” I said. “That has to account for something.”
“It really doesn’t,” EZ said, with a jeering tone. “You ain’t normal, so that means you suspect. And if you don’t know what we do to suspect bitches around here, you about to.”
My muscles tensed, my hands clenched beside me. More and more, I was going to have to fight my way out.
EZ moved his hand to his back, and I moved my hand to mine. I knew to bring a knife, this time around, and I knew where D was. A quick slash to throw them off, then I would turn to get-
“EZ, hold on.”
An arm was thrown out, blocking EZ.
“Ah, you for real?” EZ questioned. He put his arms to his side.
“For real,” Krown said. “You know I don’t want no trouble here. That’s not what we’re about. I just wanted to see if lil’ Wendy here was legit, and she ain’t.”
Krown looked at me, and thrusted the ball back into my arms. I held onto it.
“Were you scared?”
How was I supposed to answer that?
“I, yeah, you scared me real good there,” I said, playing along.
“If you scared, bitch, go to church,” EZ said.
“That ain’t bad advice,” Krown said. “Listen to my brother, here. You take that ball, and your little friend, and go find a church. And you don’t bother me or my homies again. Don’t come around these parts again, yah heard me? Learn yourself a lesson.”
My head was down, staring at the ball in my hands.
“You’re letting me go?” I asked.
“No shit we’re letting you go. You don’t think I know what you up to? Everybody knows about my beef with my brother. It ain’t nothing new.”
“And it’s old hat,” EZ said. “It’s in the past now. Petty shit.”
“Word is bond,” Krown said. “If we wanna keep on living out here in these streets, we got to unify. And that means respect to my bro, here.”
“Respect,” EZ said. “He wearing a different gang color than mine, but I can still respect him as a black man. There’s another color that runs deeper than any gang, and we have to stick together to survive against the common enemy.”
“And that enemy is you, lil’ Wendy.”
Krown put his hand on the ball, and pushed, forcing me to take a step backward.
“I saw you coming a mile away, so turn around and go a mile back. You ain’t welcome here no more.”
EZ and Krown walked away, leaving me. Their men moved, joining each other in ranks and numbers, until they were all in one group, on one side of this half of the court. Blue and white.
They were talking amongst themselves, now, making jokes, shooting hoops with their spare ball, enjoying the company of one another. As if they were never split down the middle.
Was it a farce? A set up? Was I being played the whole time?
Fuck, fuck, fuck me.
I took a step, then two, then three. No one reacted or responded to my presence, but the threat was already made, hanging in the air. I wasn’t about to stick around and have them make good on that threat.
Defeated, dejected, I turned and left the court.
D joined my side as I walked, silent as we rounded the corner, and then another corner. We were out of sight, now.
I stopped, and so did D.
In anger, I threw the ball. It soared, going over some buildings, a block, landing wherever it happened to land. I didn’t care.
“Sorry I couldn’t back you up,” D said, soft. “I’m usually good at that sort of thing, but I’m usually not in the open like that. I work better with the element of surprise.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said, shaking my head. “They played us, played me.”
“What happened, exactly?”
“They seemed to have made up.”
“They made up? That’s… new.”
“No shit it’s new. They squashed their beef, and they’re willing to join hands to fight any common threat. They might not know that we’re Ghosts, but they’re not going to be played against each other. That particular dynamic isn’t there. We don’t have that exploit.”
“Well,” D said, leaving a pause, “Darn.”
I started walking again, D following.
“Do we have anyone else on that list?” I asked. “That we can actually cross out?”
“Of course, yeah, but those two? If we actually wanted to make a splash, taking them out was the way to do it.”
My pace quickened. I breathed out loud, reaching a growl at the end.