“Freeze, got damn it!”
I hear a gun cocking behind me. I keep running. Out of the corner of my eye, I watch as a bullet just barely sails past my face, nicking me on the cheek. It stings like fucking hell. The shooter isn’t aiming to kill, though. I understand that. The shooter just wants me to stop. But stopping is something I cannot do. I keep running.
“Fuck!” I hear the voice behind me exclaim. I hear the footsteps pounding upon the pavement, hear the huffing and puffing, the hard breathing of someone who can’t afford to fail. They know like I know that it will end tonight. As I run, I look around the abandoned railroad yard I’ve been chased into. I look for an out or at least for some place to catch my breath. I dart between the two stationary boxcars and run for the set of buildings I see just past. I run up to the door in the building on my right, attempt to jerk it open. Fucking shit, it’s locked!
I look back behind me briefly. They haven’t caught up yet. I run towards the building on my left, try to pull open its door. That one’s locked, too. Quickly, I pick up a brick from off the ground and smash it through one of the building’s windows. I don’t intend to climb through it. No, no, the purpose of that is to distract them, to make them think I’ve hidden there… I run to through the next set of buildings, try the doors. Still locked out. I keep running. Finally, in the second to last building on the left side, a door breaks free. I sigh deeply and look up at the heavens, then go inside, making sure to shut the door behind me as quietly and carefully as possible. From there, I find a set of metal shelves and boxes to hide behind. I can’t hide here forever, I know that; I just need a moment to catch my breath… to figure out how it had all gone wrong.
It was crazy how things had changed in just a matter of months, how years had been reduced to nothingness because of something I’d done… something I’d felt I had to do. It wasn’t my fault, though. Not entirely. It was his. He’d come along and fucked up everything I’d worked for. Everything I’d built up for my family over the years, he threatened to take away from me. He could easily have left shit alone.
The sound of a door slamming open against the wall startles me out of my thoughts. From my hiding place, I peek through the boxes set upon the shelves. Legs moving cautiously forward. Gun pointed straight ahead in front of them.
“Get the fuck out here!” I can’t resist smiling at that. “You fucking coward! Come out here right now!” Trying to provoke me. To draw me out. Funny to see them acting out everything I’ve taught them.
They’re screaming my name now. I wonder how much longer I can keep them waiting, how much longer I can bide my time. For what, though? I ponder.
“You fucking bastard! You come out and fucking face me right fucking now!” As much as I don’t want to admit it, I’m actually afraid. Not afraid of the person. I’m afraid of how this might end. I sigh deeply, then stand up and step out into the open from my hiding place. I feel my eyes furrow in confusion as I look around the abandoned building. They’re… gone? My question is answered when I feel the steel pressed up against the back of my neck. I shiver, not because of the gun, but because the steel is cold. That’s scary, too. Means the gun hasn’t been fired very recently. I start to turn around.
“NO!” I tilt my head back slightly.
“No?” I repeat, my eyebrows raised.
“Don’t you dare fucking turn around.”
“So you can’t face me, huh?” Just like that, I go from a little afraid to disgusted. “After all this time, you can’t face me. I’ve taught you well.” I can’t resist the smile that spreads across my face. “You made me think you’d left the building, then surprised me. Just like I taught you.”
“Why? Are you afraid you’ll remember? You afraid if I take you too far back down memory lane, you’ll lose the nerve?” In my head, I know I’m just talking shit. I can hear the anger and the hurt in the shooter’s voice. I didn’t expect that. That anger and hurt makes me wonder…
“Why? Why’d you do it?” I start to turn around again, but the gun presses itself harder into my neck.
“Don’t turn around!”
“Okay, okay, fine, fine,” I reply, raising my hands up in the air. “You don’t want to know why. If I told you why, you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Try me.” I haven’t been shot yet, so it’s worth a shot.
“He was going to ruin everything. You understand that? He was about to take away EVERYTHING, that I had built up. And not just for me. For the family. For you and for my little one.”
“No, he wasn’t, Eliazor!” The voice takes on a soft tone. I’ve struck a chord with her… for the wrong damn reason. I’m immediately angry again.
“Yes, he fucking was! You let this motherfucker get in the way of the motherfuckin’ mission! I somewhat get it. The heart is fucking tricky like that. It’s why I avoided falling in love once things started really rolling.”
“But to deny me-“
“To deny YOU?! That’s the most selfish fucking thing ever. Damn. I’d never in a million years expect to hear that coming from you. To deny YOU?! What about US? See, that’s what happens when you let your heart get into things. That clouds your judgment… makes you lose sight of what’s really important.”
“He was important to me.” I roll my eyes. This shit was disgusting… brutal, even.
“More important than family, Erika Michele? He was more important to you than family?” I hear her sniffling behind me. That’s when it comes full circle. I can hear her choking back tears. In that moment, I understand that there is only one way this can end. I close my eyes and sigh deeply.
My eyes flew open, and I damn near jumped up out of my seat. I was breathing extra hard, heart was going at least five hundred miles a minute. It took a moment for me to gather myself, to remember where I was. Once I figured out that I was still in my truck, I buried my head in my hands. Jesus fuckin’ Christ… That was too real.
I looked out through the front window, then pulled out my binoculars. I watched from my safe distance as Erika Michele got out of her car and walked up to the third floor of building 12 of The Catalyst Apartments. She knocked on a door at the far right end, waited a few moments, then banged on the door. I burst out laughing. She’d always been so impatient. As I waited with her for the door to open, I recounted the dream I’d had.
There were two things that scared the shit out of me. The first, was that my sister might one day be put in a position where she’d have to catch me. It was the downside of having a sibling for a cop when you were involved in a life of crime. To my credit, I’d done absolutely all I could to ensure that she stayed out of my way, out of harm’s way, really. I even had her change her name when she was 14, to “Michele Riley.” We had all the legal documents changed, too, her birth certificate and social security information and everything. At the least, that would serve to keep people from connecting the two of us, in case things got hot with the family business and people might have tried to get to me by doing something to her.
I honestly never saw Erika Michele growing up and becoming a part of the police, though. And when it happened, I immediately developed the concern as to what might happen if she got faced with the prospect of having to arrest me, her dear old brother. Hell, when she’d started high school, her dreams had been much bigger. She’d wanted to be a fashion designer, right up there with Versace and Gookie, however you said his name. But then… she got pregnant.
That had been an embodiment of the second thing – I was scared as shit that one day my sister might fall in love. I had accepted, with my lifestyle, that the idea of marriage, of kids even, was unlikely, at least while I was still active as a gangster. There were women I’d come across who’d kept my attention for a long amount of time, sure… but I always ended it before it got too close for comfort, before I started falling for them. You fall in love and your judgment’s impaired. You start having to consider them in your decisions, in your life. Even when you HAVE to make the wrong decisions, you can’t because you have to do right by your woman. I’d seen Dad struggle with that with Ma, when I’d first started to fully understand that his job was bigger than just taking out trash. That was part of the reason I told Erika Michele when we were younger that Ma left us behind, that she fell out of love with us – because I saw how Dad had to purposely push Ma away, not because he didn’t love her, but because he didn’t want her to be a part of this life. Those were the sacrifices you made for family, even if family wouldn’t understand the reasons why you did what you did until much later down the line.
But not to mention, I made Erika Michele my main priority even as I was maintaining the family business. It was hard enough watching her, making sure she had money to eat and pay rent at all times. I didn’t even want to imagine what might happen if she had the old husband and kids, and then someone came after me, and found out she was my sister, and then went after her and them. No. No, I couldn’t put my family through that. I would hate for that shit to happen, it would haunt my whole life it got to where my life directly put my sister’s life and everything she’d build up in danger. And that’s when she got knocked up by Ulysses. Yes, the nigga’s name was Ulysses. I never understood how or why, of all the men in the world, she let herself get preggo behind a nigga who was essentially a product of the projects, but whose parents had apparently watched the History Channel special for Homer’s The Odyssey or some shit.”Ulysses.” Fucking no, I wasn’t going to be related to any damn Ulysses. They’d mess around and have nieces and nephews named Eurydice and Plato and some shit. With my accent, we’d be in Wal-Mart one day and I’d be like, “Hey, here’s the Play-Doh,” and the little fella would be like, “No, unk, I’m right here.” Hell nah. Not on my watch.
I’m rambling. Anyway, Ulysses. I hated that fucking guy. And when he knocked up Erika Michele her senior year of school, he had the nerve to claim the kid wasn’t his. I might have believed him, had it not been for the fact that many a time, I’d followed him around while she was riding with him, and many a time, she’d stayed the night at the nigga’s apartment. Something was bound to happen eventually. But he knocked her up, and he broke her heart, thankfully, which allowed me the opportunity to go break his fucking jaw. And now the nigga had the audacity to want to take my sister to court. Fuck him. At least the nigga’s mother was supportive of Erika’s situation, and she vowed to help her out with the kid. The kid, by the way, became my little chipmunk, my absolutely gorgeous niece Denise. I loved that little girl with every fiber of my being, probably especially because I’d never had kids of my own. Erika having her made me that much more protective; I started making arrangements with the business to where some of my workers were doing shit I usually handled myself, just so I could go play with my niece or go to her baptism.
But the presence of Denise also made my fear greater. I knew if Erika Michele ever met the right guy, she’d pack up and take Denise with her, start a new life elsewhere. I couldn’t stand not having my little chipmunk around. That’s why I’d made the deal with Erika in the bar earlier today. I was ready to get out of the gang life, really, I was. Denise was four now. I wasn’t going to be missing out on future ballet recitals, soccer games, and shit like that just to go kill niggas and move drugs. Fuck that. No, family came first. And I wasn’t ready to have another addition to the family just yet, especially not another dumb nigga that might catch my sister’s attention and mess up everything. I shook my head again. That fucking dream, of her chasing me, had combined both my fears. I hoped it never came true.
Just then, the door to the apartment opened. I adjusted the focus on the binoculars and looked closely as the kid ran out. I didn’t fight the smile that made its way across my face.
“Hi, sweetie!” I was dog-tired, but I still picked Denise up in my arms. She smiled widely, then planted a big kiss on my cheek. It was always a treat to see her at the end of every work day. She could change the worst of my moods just like that. I looked over at her grandmother, Mrs. Nelson, who was now standing in the apartment doorway.
“Was she any trouble?” I asked her. Mrs. Nelson shook her head.
“Not at all,” she replied. “Well, at least not today.” She chuckled at her joke. “And how are YOU doing today?” I sighed.
“It’s been a long one,” I admitted. “Just ready to go home, cook, watch my shows, and go to bed.”
“I understand.” Mrs. Nelson hesitated for a minute, like she had something to say but wasn’t sure whether or not to say it. “You didn’t forget about tomorrow, did you?” I had been hoping she wouldn’t bring that up.
“No, ma’am,” I replied.
“Good. Good. I really do hate to remind you, you know?”
“It’s just that, it involves my grandbaby, and I just want the best for her, and all.”
“I understand,” I insisted. “Really?”
“Do you? I don’t think you do. This is a complicated position for me to be in. Between my son and his, well, baby mama. I’ve kind of come to see you as the daughter I never had.” I held back a smile. “I hate to have to choose sides. And it still bothers me that Ulysses… left you hanging. We didn’t raise him that way, his father and I.” It’s only out of respect that I hold back mentioning that Ulysses’ father wasn’t exactly around when he was growing up. So I just shrugged.
“It happens.” Mrs. Nelson nodded, then puts a soft hand on my shoulder.
“Well, be careful. I’ll see y’all tomorrow, then.”
“Yes, ma’am. Take care.”
“Bye, gram’ma!” Denise said, in a voice loud enough for the whole neighborhood to have heard. Mrs. Nelson’s face lit up. My daughter had that effect on people.
“Goodbye, baby.” Mrs. Nelson told her. “You’ll take care of your mama for me, won’t you?” Denise bobbed her head up and down. Then Mrs. Nelson looked over at me. “See you tomorrow.” I nodded solemnly. With that, I made my way back downstairs, still holding Denise in my arms.
“So, what would you like for dinner?” I asked her, once we’d reached the ground. The day had definitely wore me out more than I realized, and I didn’t feel like cooking. It didn’t help that my mood had changed up considerably what with Mrs. Nelson bringing up what I’d have to do tomorrow.
“Umm… McDonald’s!” Denise replied. I groaned. I loaded her into her car seat in the backseat, then climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Don’t you ever get tired of McDonald’s?”
“Nope!” I looked at her through the rearview mirror. She was cheesing hard. I rolled my eyes.
I was a firm believer in the fact that every girl was allowed to make two big mistakes before reaching her 30s. One of mine, was messing with Denise’s father. I suppose I should have known from the jump that I was asking for trouble the minute I saw the man’s name was Ulysses. He was my second boyfriend, but perhaps the first one I ever actually loved. Eli hated him and, in the beginning, I never understood why. In the beginning, he seemed like the sweetest guy ever. Rough exterior with a soft side, just like I liked them. In the beginning, he was there for me. In the beginning, he was cool with just kicking it.
But I guess people change over time. Or maybe that was who he was the whole time and I was too in love with him to really care about that. In any case, shit got real and people got fraud when I got knocked up four years ago. I was too thankful for the people who stayed in my corner, my mother, Mrs. Nelson, and Devon amongst them. They almost made up for the lack of the people who SHOULD have been in my corner… for the person who had the audacity to tell me Erica couldn’t possibly his. He’d called me a ho and had even accused me of sleeping with one of his boys. I distinctly remember us fighting, and he told me “Nah, fuck this, Michele, I’m leaving.” I’d told him, “you leave now, you better not ever come back.” He’d replied, “What makes you think I’d ever WANT to come back?” He’d said that to me four years ago but those words still cut deep even now. His mother, surprisingly, had taken my side over her son’s. Mrs. Nelson had been such a great help and lifesaver. She offered to watch Denise whenever I had to work or when I was busy. And she remained on my side even now, as her son had become suddenly interested in being his daughter’s life again.
As I started driving in the direction of McDonald’s, I looked back in my rearview mirror. And I couldn’t help smiling again. Denise definitely was not a mistake. Your whole mentality changes when you become a mother, when you become responsible for another life that’s not your own. You have to nurture this thing that literally grows up looking up to you and, hopefully, loving you. I loved my little girl. She had become the reason for EVERYTHING I did. I’d in fact gone into the police academy because it would allow me to quickly make a lot of money, or at least enough to support a single mother and child consistently. But at times, I also hated the danger that came with the job. I couldn’t afford to never come home one day behind the job, to put my beautiful little girl in a position where she’d have to grow up without her mother. And yet tomorrow… I wouldn’t think about tomorrow just yet. No. No, I’d enjoy my time with my daughter while she was still with me.