It was too early in the a.m. for his phone to be ringing, but it was, waking him from some serious slumber. Darius reached for it, knocking it off the nightstand in the process and onto the floor. “Fuck,” he said, leaning over his bed, using his hand to search around for it. He hoped to put it to his ear, mumble a You’ve-got-the-wrong-number and get back to sleep without fully waking. He didn’t know how late it was, but it was later than midnight, when he’d fallen into bed, tired from the last few weeks of work.
“Fuck,” he said again, ‘cause in addition to the phone, someone was knocking at his front door. Police; it had to be, ‘cause who else knocked that fucking hard. He lifted his head from his pillow, flipped over onto his back, and threw his legs over the side of his bed to retrieve the phone, stuck between the bed and the nightstand. Of course it was.
Placing it to his ear, he snapped out a terse “Hello.” It was Bishop, his boss calling, which meant emergency. The knocking started up again.
“Is that you?” Bishop asked. He could hear the loud banging too. Darius was sure the entire neighborhood could hear it.
“See to it, and call me back. Brandon is missing,” he said.
“Yes sir, in a second, sir,” Darius said, standing, reaching for his jeans with one hand, placing the phone in his back pocket before shoving his legs into them. He made his way to the front door, his heart racing. Not the full-out gallop kind of racing that came from the consequences of having done something majorly improper. No, this was more of a canter, a recognition that nothing good surfaced at this hour.
“What’s up?” he said to the officer standing on his front porch. Lights swirled in a red haze behind his head, mixed in with the muted sounds of multiple police officers at work.
“Sorry to wake you sir, but there’s been an accident,” he said.
“We’re trying to determine that now, sir. Did you hear or see anything out of the ordinary?” he asked, all professional clean-cut public servant, ready to protect and serve, his demeanor as crisp as the uniform he wore.
“No,” Darius said, looking past the officer’s shoulder to the street. Three police cars with lights flashing circled a car, a Mustang GTO, black. He knew that car. “I think I know that car?” he said.
“You do, sir?”
“If it’s who I think it is, I work for his father.”
“Who would that be sir?”
“Bishop Walker. His son is Brandon Walker, home from college, completed his first year. African American, six feet or so, slim build,” Darius said, and he could tell from the officer’s demeanor that he had guessed correctly.
“We aren’t able to disclose that information until the next of kin has been notified,” the officer said.
“I understand,” D said.
“What is your name, sir?” the officer asked, pen poised to take notes.
“And you work with Bishop Walker?”
“Yes. I’m his assistant.”
“Thank you, sir. One of our detectives will be in touch,” the officer said.
D watched him make his way back to the street. His last comment about the detective meant it was more than an ordinary traffic accident. Detectives came for something more serious. He pulled the phone from his pocket and hit the number to call Bishop.
“Yes sir,” he said, in response to the bishop’s hello. “There has been an accident, sir,” he said. “I think you should come. Alone,” he said.
* * *
It was a lovely day in the neighborhood, Sydney thought, scanning the street in front of her. She sat with her butt planted in the porch swing of her new home, and her bare feet planted on the porch railing in front. No one and nothing-but-boring here, she thought, using her feet to push herself to and fro. Swinging and watching her cousin play in the front yard with his toys was how she was spending her summer, had anyone cared to ask.
She had a front porch, located right outside of the front door, large enough for a swing, or a couple of chairs. A sidewalk from the porch lead to your very own drive, in front of your very own single-car garage. A patch of grass was the front yard, which most people took care of, including her, on behalf of her cousin.
Government housing was just at the edge of the western part of town. They were far enough away from the Richie Riches, but close enough to expose those that wanted exposure to a different life.
Governmental housing, built a year ago, the new way, which meant small sections of homes placed in areas that were more upscale. Not so isolated and clumped together any more were the poor to be kept. No more living in an oasis of poverty, which is where they’d lived before here, in a much larger apartment complex in one of the older parts of town.
Her cousin’s little neighborhood consisted of twelve units of fifteen-hundred-square foot, two-bedroom, two-story homes. A little went a long way must have been what the limit of twelve units was about, she figured; and yes, she was too young to be so cynical.
How young was too young to see what was going on around you? Especially when the difference between those that had and those that had not was presented so plainly to you. So, what if she’d started to see the world in a different way? It was hard not to.
The west was home to the hills featuring some of the best views, estates, and the most affluent in the city. And with them or because of them, the area was also home to one of the best public schools in the country. One of those blue-ribbon schools she’d heard so much about but had never been fortunate enough to attend, until this school year. Hopefully some of that upward mobility would brush off on her.
Until then, she had Nico, her seven-year-old cousin, now standing in front of her, to watch and take care of. A cutie was this one, with his mop of dark brown hair and long eyelashes, a thin brown-skinned little boy, born with Down Syndrome. He was also an aficionado of superhero t-shirts, which he wore religiously. Today’s superhuman pick was Superman, with his blue leotard and red cape-wearing self, staring back at her from Nico’s chest.
“Sydney, pull my truck,” Nico said.
“Pull it yourself.”
“No. I’m the policeman. You’re the bad guy,” he said, pointing to himself. “You pull and I chase. Please . . .” he added, drawing out that word, while shaking his little body around like a jumping bean.
“Fine. Hand me a car,” she said, holding out her hand. Nico was always the cop, the good guy, and everyone else was someone to be captured and taken to jail. A kid who loved automobiles, and not the little ones either. No, Nico’s preferred automobiles were about a foot or two in length and height. All types and the more the merrier described his auto collection. He’d attached a rope to the front of his cars, trucks, and busses; you name it, if it had wheels, Nico probably had a small version of it with a rope attached to the front of it. And the rope had to be just so; not too thick, but thick enough so that it didn’t break when pulled, running at his top speed. He grinned and placed the rope in her hand.
Today it was the red pick-up truck for her, the one with the gun in the bed. It used to be some type of military truck before Nico covered its military green paint with red; more befitting a drug runner was his reasoning, she guessed. He spent way too much time watching cop shows, if anybody asked her, only to go outside and re-enact them in the drive of his home.
“Run the regular way,” he said, which meant down the drive, make a right turn at the sidewalk, and get to the corner as fast as she could.
“Okay, sure,” she said, moving to the top of the drive as she watched him find the police car he so loved. He stood behind her, rope in hand, ready to go.
“Are you ready?” he asked, wearing this huge grin on his face.
“Yes,” she said, wearing an identical grin on hers, getting into the spirit of this.
“Go,” he shouted. She took off, running not too fast, but fast enough so that Nico felt like it was truly a chase. “Here I come,” he said, running behind her. “Arrrrrrrr,” he said, his police car siren sound effect.
She was down the driveway, making the right turn, down the sidewalk, starting into the home stretch. She looked over her shoulder. She thought she’d heard something, and yeah, it was a car, pulling over to the curb in front of her home. She didn’t recognize it, which meant she could ignore it. She continued her semi-sprint, closing in on the corner, as Nico gave chase.
* * *
“Who is that?” Graham asked, watching an African-American girl run down the sidewalk, pulling a toy truck attached to rope behind her. A smaller African-American kid ran behind her, pulling a rope and a car too.
“My sister,” Shelby said from the back seat of Graham’s car as he pulled over to the curb to park. “She’s to be a freshman at Woodlands, if you can believe that.” She watched Sydney run down the sidewalk, pulling that stupid truck behind her. Would she ever grow up? Fourteen years old and still running shoeless down the street, being chased by a seven-year-old no less. They were playing Nico’s favorite game of catching Sydney-the-bad-guy-drug-runner.
“Is that your little brother?” Aster, Graham’s girlfriend asked. She was seated behind him, and beside Shelby.
“No,” Shelby said in a way meant to curb any further questions. “Give me ten minutes and I’ll be back,” she said. She was out of the car quickly, wanting to avoid her half sister and cousin. In and out of the house with haste was her plan. She’d barely closed the car door when Nico spotted her and so much for her plan. Her heart sank.
“Look, it’s Shelby,” Nico screamed, jumping up and down with excitement and moving his sweaty little self toward her, dragging Sydney by the hand along behind him. “I caught Sydney,” he said, still at the top of his lungs.
Cute kid, Shelby thought, even though she wanted to sink into the earth at being here with the two of them. She knew it was a bad idea to stop, but she needed to change clothes; couldn’t wear her swimsuit and cover-all everywhere, regardless of how good she looked in it.
“Hi friends,” Nico said, leaning his little self against the passenger door.
“Hi,” they all replied.
“Everybody, this is my sister, Sydney, and this is my cousin, Nico,” Shelby said, irritated and rushing through the introductions.
“Hi,” Sydney said, a fluttering of fingers waving.
“Hi friends,” Nico said again.
“I have to go change. You two should come with me,” Shelby said, meeting her sister’s gaze.
“Me and Sydney are playing, so we can’t go inside,” Nico said.
“Sydney and I are playing,” Sydney said, correcting him.
“Sydney and I are playing, so we can’t go inside,” Nico said, with his eyes glued to the car’s male occupants. Three people were seated in the car. Two males—a white dude behind the wheel and Brian, the African American in the passenger seat—and a white girl, behind the white dude.
There was no getting Nico inside now that he’d spotted the two males. Not without a knock-down-drag-out fight. “Want to play with me?” was the question he most often posed to just about any male walking past their home. Nico loved older boys and he was always asking, however slim the chance they’d agree.
Sydney met her sister’s gaze, all apology-filled. She knew how much the right friends meant to Shelby, and the three seated in the car appeared to be just that. The African American dude was the current boyfriend. She’d assumed that was what his showing up lately meant. Shelby had yet to tell her anything concrete, but that was her sister, mouth forever on lockdown.
“It’s okay, we’ll be okay,” Sydney said, trying to convey to her sister that she wouldn’t mess things up for her. Shelby always wanted to hide her life from others.
“I’ll be quick,” Shelby said to the car’s occupants, and then she was moving away. She would be quick, of that Sydney had no doubt. The friends’ gazes followed her sister all the way to the front door before zipping back over to her and Nico.
Sydney met their gazes again, assessing them for signs of snobbery. It was usually the first characteristic she encountered with this group. Not them specifically, but those that had more than she, at least in terms of money. Sydney smiled, looked them over again, and smiled again.
“I’m Brian, and that’s Graham. The young lady seated behind him is Aster,” Brian, the African American dude, said. Aster lifted her head in greeting, but that was all Sydney was going to get. She appeared to be the white version of her sister. Pretty and not at all interested in anyone beyond herself, was how Sydney summed her up.
“I’m Sydney and this is my cousin Nico,” she said, introducing them again; and okay, Shelby had already done that, she reminded herself. She smiled again, nervous in the face of two handsome boys. Not that she expected anything different from her sister, who had to be the most beautiful person Sydney had ever encountered. Shelby was beautiful. Being light-bright, damn near white helped, courtesy of her white dude for a daddy; unlike Sydney’s father, who had been called blue, as in Dang dude, you’re so black you’re blue, and the reason Sydney’s skin was much darker. They’d both shared the same African-American, caramel-skin-toned mother.
“So, you ready for school?” Graham asked, breaking the awkward silence. He was the white dude, cute, lean, wore his hair short. She couldn’t see his eyes behind the shades covering them.
“I think so,” Sydney said.
“You want to play?” Nico asked, addressing the occupants in the car, the boys mainly.
“No, Nico. They are leaving as soon as Shelby returns, which will be any minute now,” Sydney said, kicking herself. She would have seen the request coming, and she would have, had she not been so preoccupied with the cute Graham.
“We have a minute, don’t we? We don’t get to play cars nearly enough anymore, do we Graham?” Brian said, grinning at her.
“No, we do not.” Graham said, grinning too, and shutting off the car’s motor.
“Uh, that’s okay, really,” Sydney said, imagining Shelby’s reaction upon her return.
“No, it’ll be fun,” Graham said, meeting Sydney’s eyes.
He’d lost his shades, and he was a handsome dude, with nice brown eyes that matched his hair, and a pretty smile filled with nice white teeth. Who knew teeth could be so straight and so white.
“If you’re sure,” she said, but it was too late; they were out of the car moving toward Nico, who was standing at the top of the drive now, looking through his cache of cars, on top-of-the-world happy. The boys, followed by Sydney, went over to join him.
“You take the black car,” Nico said, handing off a black convertible with string attached to the front of it to Brian. “You’re a drug runner with drugs in the trunk of your car.”
“What’s up with that?” Brian said, laughing as he met Sydney’s gaze.
“In Nico’s games, the black person is always the drug runner. Too much TV,” Sydney said, smiling.
“Right,” he said, chuckling, before he winked at her.
He was cute too; tall like his friend, albeit stockier, she thought, taking his measure.
“I’d let you be the sheriff, but I’m always the sheriff,” Nico said, eyeing Graham. “You can be a man driving home with his family instead,” he said, handing a little blue minivan to Graham. “Sydney, you keep your truck. You and him,” Nico said, pointing to Brian, and then to Sydney, “are partners trying to get away from the law.” His little body bounced all over the place with excitement. Way too much TV, Sydney thought again, smiling at Nico’s happiness. “You be careful, mister, to keep your family safe,” Nico said, directing that last sentence to Graham, the white-boy family man.
“Show them where to run, Nico,” Sydney said, stalling. If Shelby were quick, perhaps they could still avoid this racing thing.
“Turn right here, and follow the sidewalk,” Nico yelled over his shoulder. He was running through the route like the devil was after him.
“Dang, he’s fast for a little dude,” Brian said, chuckling and watching him run.
“Yep,” Sydney said, shooting a quick glance toward the front door for signs of her sister.
“Stand over . . . there . . . by that line. You . . . show . . . them, Syd,” Nico said, back from his mad dash, panting from all of that running. “It’s where . . . we . . . always start. I . . . stand back here. When I say go . . . you take off,” Nico said, watching as Sydney led the two boys over to the starting line.
“Ready. Set. Go,” he said, jumping up and down as the three of them took over and after few moments he gave chase. They were laughing all three by then, Brian out in front, followed by Graham, and Sydney bringing up the rear.
“Here I come. Arrrrrrrrrr,” he started in with his police siren sound. He caught up to Sydney first, and pushed her the ground, where she sat, laughing, watching as he caught up to Graham next. He was the family man, so he posed no threat. Sydney watched from her spot on the ground, as Nico tagged Graham, moving swiftly past, headed toward his real prey, Brian.
“Run Brian,” Graham shouted, laughing as he walked back to stand beside Sydney. Brian was almost to the corner and slowing down now enough to be caught.
“That was fun,” Graham said, smiling down at Sydney, his hand extended to help her up. “Graham,” he said, introducing himself again.
“Sydney,” she said, slipping her hand into his for support, as she rose to her feet.
“You do this all the time?” he said, looking at her again.
“That’s nice of you,” he said.
“It was nice of the two of you. It means a lot to him. He doesn’t get to play with many older boys, and he can be a bit bossy, you know. But he’s a good kid,” she said, and they watched Brian on the ground, laughing with Nico, who’d finally caught up to him. She and Graham waited for Brian and Nico to make it back to them, and all four walked the remaining distance to the car where Shelby stood, with maybe a small smile on her lips. It was gone before Sydney could be sure. She had changed into jeans and a t-shirt, sandals on her feet, hair down. She was a beautiful girl, Sydney thought again, and today notwithstanding, Shelby played with Nico too.
“That was fun,” Brian said, smiling at Shelby, who smiled back. He winked at Sydney again.
“It was. Thank you, Nico, sir,” Graham said, bowing.
“Let’s go again,” Nico said, jumping up and down, all full-throttled excited, nowhere near ready to stop.
“They have to go. For real this time, Nico. So thank them,” Sydney said, placing her hand on his shoulder.
“Thank you,” Nico said, head bowed, chin to his chest in disappointment.
“You’re welcome,” Brian said, moving to the car. He was opening the back passenger-side door for her sister, before he slid into the front beside Graham a few seconds later.
“It was nice meeting you, Sydney and Nico,” Graham said, smiling.
“You too,” she said, reaching for Nico’s hand to pull him away from the car. They stood and watched as it drove away.
* * *
“So, that was your sister?” Graham asked, looking through his rearview mirror at Sydney. She and Nico were moving back up to the top of the driveway. He moved his gaze over to Shelby, sitting in the back seat.
“Any more sisters or brothers, or is she the only one?”
“She seems nice, friendly.”
“Yep,” Shelby said, looking out the window.
“She doesn’t look like you?”
“We have different fathers,” she said.
“Oh. Do they live with you?”
“Nope, neither father lives with us.”
“So, you both live with your mother?” he asked.
“Nope, and I’d rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind.” She wasn’t ready to disclose her personal history beyond the basics with them yet. She was new to the group, new to Brian, the African-American male of the group.
“No, sure, I’m sorry, I was curious, that’s all,” he said, letting the subject drop. He shot a quick glance over at Brian, who shrugged his shoulders.
It was nothing but curiosity apparently anyway, and her sister’s smile, just as they’d rolled up, that had gotten his attention, and made an impression. Happy, carefree, and joyful was that smile. Shelby and her sister were the same pretty, or Sydney would be once the rest of her body caught up with her legs, he thought. “So, where to?” he asked, looking over at Brian again.
“Your house,” he said.
“That works.” He glanced once more at Shelby. She was looking out the window, and he had no idea what she was thinking. They’d moved to this complex six weeks ago, was all he knew of her, and now her little sister and cousin. She was here for Brian, a new and much needed find.