“A young man like you… can’t be, what, any more than 16 or 17 years old, right?” The young man glared up from his seat at the metal table.
“Nigga, I’m 21!” The young man snapped at Devon. I guess he expected to get a reaction out of him. But what the young man didn’t know, was that he’d fallen right into Devon’s trap. The kid’s inexperience showed in his response. Devon simply nodded, then looked over in my direction. He was tagging me in. I got up from my resting place up against the back wall of the interrogation room, and walked over to the table.
“So… you’re 21?” I asked him. The hard expression on the young man’s face was easily offset by the fear in his eyes. I could see now why Devon hadn’t been bothered in the slightest.
“Yeah,” the kid said, furrowing his eyebrows.
“What’s your name?”
“Fuck you wanna know my name for, ho?!” the young man snapped. Oh. He wanted to play. Except a whole hour had passed since we’d first busted him, and I was NOT in the mood for games. I looked away from him for a minute, let my eyes travel around the interrogation room. Then, when I felt he’d gotten comfortable, I went in. I slammed my hands down on the metal table and leaned in closely to the young man’s face.
“Look, you little shit.” I started. “I’ve had a long motherfucking day and it’s only 2 in the afternoon. Now, you wanna sit here and lie to me about being 21, okay, cool. I’ll pretend that those three little peach-fuzz ass hairs dangling from your chin make you look closer to 21 than they do to 15.” His lips twitched a bit. The scowl on his face started to resemble a pout.
“Now, we can stay in this damn room all day,” I continued. “I’ve got nowhere to be and no one to go home to. We’ll have a nice jail cell warm and ready for you downstairs whenever we’re done here. But one thing that WON’T happen, is I won’t have you disrespecting me. That hard shit may fly with your friends on the corner. But I know your type. You hustle out of necessity. You’re only out on that corner because your moms can’t make the month’s bills. And why was that? Mom spent her money on weed? Or maybe, your mom turns tricks.”
I hit a nerve with the kid. I could tell. He was biting down on his lower lip, but it wasn’t a part of the act. He was literally biting back tears.
“Yeah, that must be it, huh?” I asked, still in his face and cocking my head slightly to the side. “Your mom is out for hours. Some nights, she doesn’t even come back home. She leaves in the middle of the night on Monday… you don’t see her again until Wednesday afternoon. Probably when you come in from school. Assuming you didn’t skip school that day to hit the corner.” I stopped because I heard him mumble something.
“What was that?” I asked. The young man sniffled, then cleared his throat.
“My name is Victor, man,” he said. “My name is Victor. Damn.”
I leaned back up off the table, then looked back at Devon. My partner merely shrugged. He understood. You had to be tough with these young ones. They thought they were hot shit, probably because the streets told them they had to be that way. But we’d seen them all. We knew their stories. Hell, some of us on the force had LIVED that life. You had to be hard with them. Merciless. So they got the message… because the system damn sure wouldn’t show them any mercy.
“We know you’re not 21, Victor,” I said. “Detective Ceasar was trying to give you a way out. We know you’re just a pusher. We’re trying to nab a bigger fish, a supplier. You’re not a priority to us… if you cooperate. You don’t have any prior convictions, no criminal record… if you claim to be the 16, 17 years old that you actually ARE… trust me when I tell you the consequences are much less, than if you claim 21 and we have to arrest and charge you as an adult.”
The young man swallowed hard. “Man…” he started. “I ain’t trying to be like them niggas on The First 48, man. I’m not a snitch.”
“But check this out, Victor,” Devon cut in, coming back over towards the table. “If one of YOUR boys were in your position right now… hell, if your BOSS were in your position right now… you think he’d care about protecting you? Being a snitch would be the last thing on his mind. He’d be trying to protect his business. Giving you up wouldn’t be personal, but it would be a smart business decision.” The young man nodded his head slowly.
“I see what you mean,” Victor replied. “Alright. Alright, then. What you need to know?”
“Who’s your supplier?” I asked. “Who do you work for?” Victor sighed deeply.
“The Campbell Crew, man,” Victor said. “Ernesto Campbell and them niggas in the Campbell Crew.”
I looked over at Devon. He stood across from me on the other side of the metal table. He jerked his head to the left, gesturing that we should leave the room. The young man didn’t know it, but in one sentence, he’d given us everything we needed to know.
“Ernesto motherfuckin’ Campbell,” Devon mumbled. I watched as he removed his gun holster from around his waist and set it down inside of his open locker.
“It was a good bust,” I insisted, leaning back up against my own locker.
“Shelly, I told you that nigga was small-time, though. And I was right! Wasn’t I? Wasn’t I?!” I sighed.
“Yes, Devon, you were right. Are you happy now?”
“No, I’m not at all, Shelly. This just confirmed that I wasted my fuckin’ time.”
“How did you waste your time, Devon? This is… what, the third guy we’ve snagged in the last two weeks that’s been associated with the Campbell Crew. We pretty much have a case against him now. Three guys confessing they worked for and with Ernesto Campbell.”
“Man, Shelly!” Devon barked, spinning around to face me. “I don’t give a fuck about this named-after-a-soup can ass nigga Ernesto Campbell. You know his story. They done took his Chicken Noodle ass to court twice already, both times found ‘not guilty.’ You want to be that third set of humiliated bastards?”
“I don’t, either, Shelly!” Devon cut me off. “Shit.” He shook his head, then turned back around and returned his attention to his locker. “I’m just saying, man… I wish we could just catch a case where, like, we bust some pair of niggas and they just knocked off some jewelry store or small-time bank or some shit.” I laughed.
“Devon, if we ever ended up going after some bank robbers, your ass wouldn’t know what to do with yourself.” I told him.
“Damn right,” he replied. “I would throw them niggas in the back of the car, then promptly proceed to hit my motherfucking dougie.” I watched as he pulled his black shirt up over his head, watched his back muscles contort. Got damn! I tried to look away, but I couldn’t control myself. A woman WAS allowed to be a not-so-innocent bystander, right?
Over the entire three years that I’d had Devon Ceasar for a partner, he’d always been obsessed with working out. “There’s no excuse,” he once said, “for my body to not be on point. Like that little nigga Bruce Lee. Did you know, as scrawny as he looked in the movies, he was like the most physically fit person alive during his time? He maxed the fuck out of his body’s potential. He lifted weights with a single finger, though. A single finger!” So he stayed in somebody’s gym… and it showed.
His back muscles flexed. Damn, was he doing this on purpose? Then he turned around. I let my eyes wander down the rest of his body, didn’t blink once. I let my vision soak in every bit of his bulging pectoral muscles, let myself get that focused on the Brother’s ab muscles… all eight of them…
“You like what you see?” I looked up. Devon was staring at me.
“Shit!” I whispered under my breath. He seemed to grin from ear to ear.
“What was that?” he asked.
“Shut up, Devon.” He burst out laughing.
“It’s okay, Shelly,” he insisted, still grinning. “I’m not mad at you. Reactions like that from women like you, are exactly why I do what I do.”
He opened his locker further open, took out a white t-shirt and a lime green polo shirt, and proceeded to put both of them on. As he dressed, my eyes rested upon the photo he kept taped on the inside of his locker door – the photo of his wife and baby boy. Devon had married her during our second year as partners on the force. I’d been there for the ups and downs of that whole relationship. Many times, Devon had come to me angry, frustrated, scared, pissed at Rhonda. The wedding itself almost hadn’t happened because Devon had heard her complain numerous times about wanting “the best, most expensive type of ring” possible and Devon just didn’t have the budget, he felt, to buy her the right ring. But he sidestepped his insecurity, proposed to her, and she accepted.
Then Rhonda got pregnant. They’d had their son late last year, back in November. I remembered when he first put that picture up in his locker back in January, four months ago. “This is what I do it all for, Shelly,” he’d said. “I got purpose for this police shit now. I do it all for them.” I smiled at the memory. Though it was hard to tell at times, I knew not to take Devon’s flirting some kinda way. I knew he loved Rhonda.
I turned my attention to my own locker, pulled off my own shirt, and stared at the picture I kept in the very back of my locker. I reached out and touched it, traced my fingers down the little girl’s face. MY little girl’s face. I was reminded again of what I’d have to deal with later on this week, and I sighed deeply.
“Shelly?” Devon asked, interrupting my thoughts. I turned back around to face him.
“How is she, by the way?”
“How is she?” I repeated his question, a bit confused.
“My little nigga,” he replied, jerking his head in my direction but looking behind me. Oh! He must have seen me looking at the picture of her. I couldn’t help frowning at his word choice, though.
“Devon, I take offense to that. For real.”
“What?” he asked. “That IS my little nigga, though!”
“Except my daughter is NOT a ‘nigga’ in any sense of the word, Devon.” I scolded him. He rolled his eyes. “I’m serious.”
“I hear you, Shelly,” Devon replied, smacking his lips. “I hear you. My bad.”
“Man, Shelly, you ain’t gotta rub it in, though.”
“Actually, I was answering your question,” I told him with a smirk. “Denise – that’s her name, remember? – is doing good.”
“Oh, I got you. Good for her. Good for her. I kinda miss my little nig- ‘Nise. You should bring her around here more often.”
“Bring my little girl, to a police station?” I asked, raising my eyebrows at him. “Yeah, that’s a great suggestion.” Devon smacked his lips again, and I giggled.
“Man, you know what I meant by that, Shelly! Damn!” My giggle evolved into an outright laugh. “You always give a nigga a hard time for no reason.”
“Nah, I always have a reason,” I insisted, and I winked at him for good measure. Just then, I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket. I furrowed my eyebrows. Who could be calling me at 2:30 in the afternoon? I pulled out my phone and answered it.
“Shell.” Aw, hell naw. This nigga was NOT calling me while I was at work. He knew better than that.
“Um, sorry, there no Shell here,” I said, adding what I hoped was a fake Chinese accent to my voice. “This Chicken Shack. I interest you in two piece and fried rice one ninety-nine?”
“Shell, stop playing, girl,” the man said. “I know that’s really you.” I sighed. “Ha, that fake accent was kinda funny, though.”
“What do you want, Marcus?” I asked him. “I’m actually at work right now, so make it snappy.” I felt a light punch on my arm and spun around. Devon was pointing at me and doing the “oooh!” gesture with a fist over his mouth, as if he’d just busted me doing something. I glared and mouthed a “shut up” at him, squinting my eyes to make sure he got the point, then turned back towards my locker.
“Actually, you know, I just wanted to see how you was doing,” Marcus replied. “It’s been, you know, three days since I took you to dinner.” Psh, I would’t have called it “dinner.” Nah, not “dinner.” More like, “a waste of my life.”
“Anyway,” Marcus continued, “I wanted to see if you had any free time tonight. Maybe we could go catch a movie?”
“’Catch a movie?’” I repeated. I heard Devon snickering from behind me. I pulled the rule book out of my locker, spun around and tossed it straight at Devon’s head. He just barely ducked out of the way, then he crowed.
“Umm, I don’t think that’s a good idea, Marcus. Besides, how do I know you won’t forget your wallet this time?”
“Aww, come on, Shell,” Marcus said. “That was just a one-time thing, girl.”
“It was our first time out,” I told him. “On the first date, that’s when the man should make his best impression. If that was your best, sir, I can tell you right now, I doubt I’ll be impressed by to what’s to come.”
“Shell, don’t be like that.”
“Don’t be like what?” I asked, taking a little offense to his question. “First, Marcus, you showed up 20 minutes late to pick me up. I usually drive my damn self, but I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll humor him.’ I don’t even get a phone call telling me you’re going to be late. You just get there and you’re like, ‘You ready to go?’ I should have said ‘Nigga, I’ve been ready since 30 minutes ago. Where were you?’ But no, I decided to be nice.
“Then… Marcus, I could see if we had just got there and, maybe while we were waiting for a table, you were like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t have my wallet.’ Or, ‘I’m a broke-ass nigga who doesn’t have a job, but I wanted to spend time with you.’ I mean, maybe, I might have considered picking up the check, just because you were upfront about it.”
“But I do have a job, though!” Marcus insisted.
“Yet you wait until the END of the night,” I continued, ignoring his words, “when the waiter actually brought the damn check to our table. You didn’t even bother to reach for it and see how much it was. You were just like, ‘Oops, I don’t have my wallet.’ And then you looked over at me, like I was just supposed to pick up the check automatically. Let’s not forget it was YOU who told ME, ‘Order anything you want, I got you tonight.’”
“But I told you I was gone pay you back, Shell!”
“Oh, so if we go to the movies tonight, I’m getting my movie paid for, plus my money back from Olive Garden?” Marcus was a lot slower in his response than I’d have liked him to be.
“Umm, I can pay you back on the next date,” Marcus said after a few seconds.
“Yeah, well… I don’t know about that next date.”
“Shell… you gotta give me another chance!” He was pleading. It would’ve been cute if he hadn’t fucked up so bad at Olive Garden. But he had… so it wasn’t.
“We’ll see,” was the best I could give him. “I’ll call you later.”
“Alright, cool, cool,” Marcus replied. “Talk to you later, sweetie!” Ugh. Sweetie? Really? Almost as soon as I disconnected the call, I heard Devon burst out laughing.
“Shut up, Devon!” I shouted at him, though I was fighting to hold in my own laughter.
“He couldn’t even pay for Olive Garden, though!” Devon said. He wiped away tears from his eyes.
“It’s really not that funny,” I told him.
“It really IS that funny, though. See, Shell, I keep telling you about messing with these young-ass dudes!” All I could do was shrug.
“He seemed mature for his age.” I said with a laugh. Just then, I felt my phone vibrating again. I pulled it out.
“Another one, huh?” Devon asked, laughing. I smirked at him, but then I looked down at the caller ID. Unknown number. I asked myself if I really wanted to deal with bill collectors. My day had been stressful enough already. I sighed heavily, and went ahead and answered the phone.
“Erika Michele.” There was only one person who referred to me by my first and middle name. And he DEFINITELY knew not to call me at work.
“Hey.” I said into the phone. “What’s up?”
“I’m outside,” he said. I furrowed my eyebrows.
“Outside of where?” I asked. “My house?”
“Outside of the station.” My heart damn near leapt up into my throat. Outside of my job?! The fuck was he doing outside of my job?!
“That’s kinda close,” I told him.
“And that doesn’t… bother you at all?”
“I couldn’t control it.” I hated that he sounded so indifferent. “I couldn’t control it.” Sure you could’ve. You just chose not to. But I couldn’t check him on it because I knew that was how he was, how life had made him. Still… he could address me, of all people, respectfully. Address my job… respectfully.
“So what’s up?” I asked. Not because I cared, but so I could stop thinking before I went off on him.
“You got a minute?”
“Is that a request or a demand?”
“Might be both.” He replied.
“Oh. In a car?”
“More like in Moses.” In Moses. He spoke in code, as he always did. I knew it was because he didn’t trust that my phone line was secure. But I knew what he was talking about. It was, after all, a place we were both familiar with.
“Got it. I’ll see you in a few.” I hung up the phone, then quickly changed out of my work shirt and threw on a grey wife-beater over my bra. I fought to pull a shirt that was perhaps one size too small over my head.
“On your way out, Shelly?” I heard Devon ask. I finally forced the damn shirt down. Wasn’t too hard to breathe with it on, but it fit a little too snug.
“Yep,” I replied. I stuffed my gun into my bag, took the bag out and slammed my locker shut. I patted Devon on the shoulder as I walked past him. “See you tomorrow.”
“Wait!” Devon called after me, though I didn’t stop walking. “Who was that on the phone?”