Project Chick II: What's Done in the Dark

Nikki Turner

St. Martin's Griffin

1
 
Boys Will Be Boys
 
 
Seven years later
The month of July had two-pieced the city like an experienced, heavy-weight champion boxer walloping a malnourished and under-skilled wannabe combatant. The fight was over before it started. The winner, by unanimous decision, was the heat wave.
Local meteorologists had warned the masses about the extreme weather. There was going to be a heat index of 105 to 110 degrees, and feature the three Hs: hot, humid, and hazy. None of the so-called experts mentioned the fourth H:
Hellacious!
The streets were sweltering. The only people it didn’t seem to slow down were the kids who were out of school for summer vacation and the low-level drug boys who were out of their mind for being caught in that heat, peddling everything from pills to crack cocaine.
The musical chimes of the ice-cream truck sounded throughout the community; its presence alone was a relief to everyone, especially the neighborhood kids.
Ali and Hadji were sitting on their friend Tommy’s porch kicking the bo-bo. When the loud melody from the ice-cream truck announced that it was near and on its way to the block, Tommy’s little sister, Tommesha, ran out of the house in reckless abandon in chase of an icy treat. “Hold on a minute,” Tommy said, putting the brakes on his sister. “How much money do you have?”
“Two big nickels,” Tommesha proudly told him, anxious to get on her way.
“Girl, c’mere. That ain’t enough to buy nothing.” Tommy dug into his pocket and fished out a five-dollar bill.
He asked his friends, “One of y’all got change?”
Both twins shook their head, so Tommy handed his sister the five-dollar bill along with strict instructions: “Get one thing and bring my change back.”
Tommesha clutched the money in her small hands and took off running.
Ali asked Tommy, “How old is your sister, man?”
“Five, going on twenty-five.” They could tell he really loved her, even though he tried to act like she was a pain in his butt.
When Tommesha returned from the ice-cream truck with a red-and-white-and-blue Bombsicle, she was so preoccupied trying to get the wrapper off that she barely heard Tommy ask, “Where’s my change?”
After he asked a second time, she went in her shorts pockets and pulled out a dollar and a nickel. “Here.” She handed it to him.
“Where the rest of it?” he asked, knowing good and well that the popsicle didn’t cost four dollars.
Tommesha shrugged her little shoulders. “That’s all the man gave me.” She had the wrapper off now, taking her first lick. It put a snaggle-toothed smile on her face.
“He on that same stuff, man,” Tommy said to the twins, shaking his head. “That popsicle was only one-fifty, at most.”
This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. Pop, the guy that operated the ice-cream truck, always cheated little kids—a quarter here, fifty cents there. The more Tommy thought about it, the more pissed he got. It was despicable the way Pop treated the kids, and Tommy wasn’t having it. It was bad enough that Pop was cheating the other kids, but the buck stopped with his little sister.
Tommy was so mad he stomped over to the ice-cream truck to confront Pop. He went straight to the front of the line. “You can’t cut,” one of the kids protested.
“Wait your turn,” Pop reprimanded. “I got enough for everyone.”
“Fuck that,” Tommy voiced his displeasure at the thief after glancing at the picture of the Bombsicle on the side of the truck and its price. “You stole two-fifty from my baby sister and you gotta give it back.”
Pop held his ground. “You better get yo’ lil’ narrow butt away from my truck before you get yo’self in trouble, lil’ boy.” His tone was both threatening and patronizing. He added, “I ain’t stole nothing from nobody. Now play like Michael Jackson and beat it, kid!”
Tommy had no proof of the theft other than what his sister told him. What if she lost the money in her haste to start eating her frozen treat? Embarrassed and feeling conquered while unsure what to do next, Tommy dropped his head and walked off, biting his lip.
The twins watched, feeling like the entire situation was messed up. Tommy looked defeated but Hadji had no intentions on letting his friend go out like a punk. Ali, picking up on his brother’s body language, got right on board.
“You strapped?” Hadji asked.
Ali nodded. “Yep.”
“Time to teach this sucker a lesson.”
They slow-walked their way to the truck. Pop paid them no mind; he was busy exchanging merchandise for money. The twins took one last look at each other, confirming what they were about to do next. They both had a hand on their guns, which were tucked in their waistbands under their shirts. A few of the kids saw the guns and either moved back or started to take cover before the twins busted off.
“Cheat this!” Hadji screamed when he whipped out a big black pistol. Ali followed suit.
Pop’s eyes got big as a pair of ripe, fleshy plums, almost popping out of their sockets. “Oh, shit. Don’t shoot,” he begged, then tried to duck, but it was too late.
Both boys had already squeezed the trigger.
Pop was hit twice in the chest and once on the arm before dropping to the floor of the ice-cream truck. He thought he was going to die. Then he realized he was hit with BB’s.
He regained his composure. “You son-a-bitches!” he screamed. “I’ll kill yo’ lil’ asses!”
Pop was reaching under the counter for something, probably a gun, when Ace popped up.
Antonio “Ace” Davis was somewhat of a hood legend in the Richmond Redevelopment Housing Projects. In his prime some people actually referred to him as the King of Cyprus Court, in reference to the projects where he grew up and did most of his dirt. Now at age thirty-nine, with a six-year prison bit behind him, he mostly just went by Ace. Ace knew that kings ruled for a while, but most eventually fell or were overthrown. There was always someone new waiting to pick up the pieces and the crown. That’s why he had ditched the king moniker: Ace planned to get cake forever … until the day he decided he wanted to pass his crown down.
“What you thinking bout doing, Pop?” Ace asked the question matter-of-factly. “It can’t be what I think…”
At the sound of Ace’s voice, Pop froze up like the popsicles he was peddling.
Pop was visibly shaken just by Ace’s presence. “Th-the kid,” Pop stammered, “shot me with a BB pistol.”
“Stop crying like a bitch, man, especially when you deserved that shit.”
Ace knew Pop was an opportunistic junkie who would do anything for a dollar. The only thing that kept him afloat was the old-ass ice-cream truck and scamming kids.
“Good thing it wasn’t no real bullets, huh?” he said, trying to make himself feel better and convince Ace that he was over it at the same time.
“You should be thankful.” Ace wiped his face with a towel and added the warning, “If you keep on with the bullshit, the next time you may not be so lucky. Those boys just so happen to be friends of mine.”
Pop looked like he wanted to say more but thought better of it. “Sure, Ace. Whatever you say, man.”
“Matter of fact, find another place to peddle yo shit at, cause if I catch you round here again, yo’ luck gonna be ran out!” Then Ace told the twins, “Why don’t y’all walk with me to the store? I wanna kick it with you about something anyway.”
Once up the street Ace asked the young boys, “Hot enough out there for ya?”
“It’s hot as fish grease out that piece,” Hadji complained.
He only said it because he thought it was the slick thing to say. The heat really didn’t bother him that much.
“It’s summer time,” Ali said. “It’s supposed to be hot.” The siblings were thirteen years old going on thirty. They had smarts, big hearts, and enough defiance to take them places.
Ace laughed at the boy’s rational observation. “Did I ever tell y’all how much you remind me of your daddy?” he asked the identical siblings.
Ace and the boys’ daddy, Lucky, were pretty cool back in the day. Together, they did some things that were best never to be spoken out loud. The bond Ace had had with their dad was one of the reasons he took a liking to the brothers when they first started spending weekends at their grandmother Betty’s house. She lived on Twenty-ninth Street in a house directly on the other side of the projects.
The twins—especially Hadji—couldn’t get enough of hearing about their father’s war stories. He died when they were young. Their mother almost never talked about their father, which only made the boys more interested in him.
“Your daddy was a real live OG on these bricks,” Ace said. “And that shit y’all did back there reminded me a whole lot of Lucky. Seriously, that would have been some shit he would have done.” Ace smiled and shook his head knowing good and well there was no denying these boys were Lucky all over, but worse, because they came in a double dose.
They stepped into the Chinese food market that doubled as a convenience store and, in contrast to the outside, it felt like an oasis. The store may have smelled like dried fish and old cheese, but at least it was air-conditioned. Ace pulled the sweat-drenched T-shirt from his chest to cool off, only to watch in dismay as the fabric snapped back to its original sticky position once released.
“Get what ya’ll want to drink,” he said. “Or whatever else you want.”
They were all looking in the big cooler where the beer and cold drinks were kept when Ace noticed the reflection of a white man coming into the store in the convex mirror that the store used to watch thieves. The caucasian dude was wearing old jeans and work boots and looked like he was on break from a construction job, except these was no construction work underway in the area. He stuck out like roaches in a box of cereal. Sometimes whites came through the projects to score drugs but never by themselves if they didn’t know anyone. Besides, Ace observed, dude was too healthy looking to be chasing narcotics. Which meant, fifty bucks to a doughnut, dude was the po-po.
Ace wasn’t “dirty” at the moment, but the back of his SUV was filthy enough to put him away for this lifetime and the next, if the police found it. He was glad that he’d left his truck down the block and walked to the projects when he saw the boys. Ace eased the keys out the front pocket of his pants and passed them to Hadji. “Hold on to these,” he said. “And don’t give ’em to nobody, ya dig?”
Hadji looked him straight in the eyes. “I gotcha, Ace.” He nodded, pleased that Ace trusted him with his keys and to have his back.
“You can count on us,” Ali seconded.
The cop walked up a few moments too late, missing the handoff. “Let me see some ID, Mr. Davis.”
“If you already know my name,” Ace asked, “what in the fuck you need my license for? I got zero time for games today.” Then he added, “It’s too hot for that shit.”
The cop smiled like he’d heard it all before. “You’re going to have plenty of time for games in prison when I get done burning your ass.” He glanced at Ace’s ID. “Now come the fuck with me.”
“Ain’t done shit to be going with yo’ ass nowhere. How bout I call my lawyer first?” Ace threatened, well aware of his rights.
The twins watched the whole thing go down blow-by-blow. Ali processed every word of the exchange while Hadji looked like he was ready to kick the dude in the walnuts and help Ace rumble with the police, right then and there in the middle of the store.
Ace slid them a quick furtive nod on the sly that said, “why the hell y’all still standing here?” Not one to miss much going on around him, Ali caught on. He disappeared up the aisle, leaving his brother behind to continue and watch, but it didn’t take long before Hadji had reluctantly caught up with his brother.
The cop handcuffed and then perp-walked Ace to the front door. When they all stepped back outside, the sun wasn’t the only thing lightening up the block. Just that quick there were blue strobe lights from unmarked cars break dancing off the ground and buildings.
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. A.T.F.
The Feds had received extra money in their budget and decided to go back into old murder cases in the city of Richmond and surrounding counties to see what they could stir up. Unfortunately for Ace, his name was one of the first on the list of suspects. But the police were wasting their time investigating Ace for old activities. There wasn’t anyone alive that could put him with a body. Ace smiled as he faced the entire neighborhood watching him being escorted out of the store and into one of the unmarked police vehicles. He smiled because he knew they wouldn’t be able to hold him for long, not for anything old anyway.
*   *   *
The keys to Ace’s Escalade felt like a brick in Hadji’s pocket. Everything had happened so fast. He asked Ali, “What should we do?”
The two looked exactly alike. Both had smooth chocolate skin, long eyelashes, and jet-black hair with deep waves. Everything about them was the same down to their matching denim shorts and the purple-and-black Kobe low-top sneakers they wore on their feet.
“Do about what?” Ali shot back, already knowing the answer. He could almost read his brother’s thoughts.
“You know.” Hadji nodded toward the shiny black-and-chrome Cadillac truck. It was parked six blocks away from the store where Ace had been arrested.
Ali suggested, “Leave it where it is and hold on to the keys until we hear from Ace. That’s the safest thing to do.”
They both assumed that the truck was dirty. Ace wouldn’t have given them the keys with the strict instructions, “Don’t give ’em to nobody,” if there wasn’t something illegal inside.
“I think we should move it,” Hadji countered. “Somebody probably ratted Ace out. And what if those same people called in about the truck and the po-po find drugs inside?”
For a moment, Ali thought about the scenario his twin proposed. Hadji could very well be right, but on the other hand, neither of them had ever driven a car before.
“What if we get pulled over? Or worse, what if we get into an accident and the po-po find drugs and guns inside?” Ali probed.
“You scared?” Hadji baited his twin, knowing it would do the trick.
And it did.
“Who’s driving?” Ali asked.
Hadji’s face sparkled with satisfaction as he held the key up in victory. “I guess I am.” Then he chirped the locks. “Get in, bro.”
Ali watched his brother run around to the driver’s side of the car and felt that Hadji was a little bit too eager. He always was the more compulsive of the two: act first and deal with the consequences later. Ali usually thought twice before acting.
“What you think Momma gonna say if she find out?” Ali asked his brother out of the blue, stopping before he could open the door. Before it was too late.
They both feared the life out of their momma, mainly because she was so unpredictable. Tressa wore a perfect poker face all the time and they never knew quite where she was coming from or how’d she react to some of the mischievous, callous things they did. Sometimes she was overly understanding and on their side, and other times she’d flip out. And she wasn’t afraid to pass out a good ass whipping when she felt she needed to. So the majority of the time when she was around, the twins walked the straight and narrow. Tressa fully understood that neither of her boys were angels, but she consistently tried hard to do her best with them.
“She’d kill us,” Hadji said with a straight face.
“You right.” Ali crossed his fingers for good luck and then yelled over the roof before jumping into the passenger seat. “So we better not get caught.”
Inside of the truck felt like an inferno and the leather seats felt like the surface of a George Foreman grill. Hadji stabbed the key into the ignition, twisted his wrist, and the eight-cylinder engine woke straight up like a genie that had just been released from its bottle. Three seconds later, arctic air blasted from the vents of the dashboard, instantly cooling off the interior. Wish number one: granted. So far so good, Ali thought to himself.
A police cruiser went down the street a block ahead of them. Ali’s heart dropped. “Police all over this place. We gotta be smart about this,” Ali said, second-guessing his earlier decision.
“I know. What do you think we should do?” Hadji asked.
Ali looked around but didn’t speak, so Hadji answered his own question. “I think our best option is to go the back way, get on the highway, and take it to the house. They don’t know where we live. They didn’t notice us. They think we just some innocent kids.”
Ali wasn’t so sure. “So we just gonna park a big-ass Escalade at the house and expect Momma to just be cool wit it? Think again, bro.”
“You got a better solution?” Hadji asked. “We can’t go anywhere near the projects with this truck.”
“Maybe,” Ali suggested, “we could park it around the street from our house. You know, like where the Park and Ride is. There’s always different cars out there, and people come and go so much that nobody will really notice. As long as we go back to get it when people aren’t going or coming from work, we good.”
“Bet.” Hadji gave his brother a dap and started to drive.
“Shit,” he said when he realized he missed the highway entrance.
“Man, just go up Broad some and we can get on near the Belvidere.” Hadji followed his brother’s instructions.
Ali was quiet, never letting his eyes leave the side-view mirror, watching his brother’s back the best he could.
Hadji tried to get comfortable, adjusting the seat and the music to his liking for the ride home but before he knew it, all hell broke loose. And he had run smack dead into trouble up ahead.


 
Copyright © 2013 by Nikki Turner