True blue, p.26
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       True Blue, p.26
 

           David Baldacci

  “Hey, you talk to me,” snapped Darren.

  “Okay, are you her brother?”

  “Yeah, so what?”

  “What were you in prison for?”

  “Who told you I was in prison?” Darren glanced darkly at his sister.

  She said, “Darren, put that gun away before somebody gets hurt. Look at Ty, he’s scared to death.”

  Unnoticed for the last couple of minutes, Tyler had crawled into a corner and tears were dribbling down his chubby cheeks. He was holding up his spaceman, apparently as a shield. Darren’s hostile look instantly melted away. “Ah hell, Ty, I’m sorry, little man.” He put the gun in his jacket pocket and hustled over to pick up the child. He held his cheek against Tyler’s and talked softly to the little boy.

  “He’s not crying,” said Roy curiously.

  Alisha started to answer but Darren beat her to it. “He ain’t crying, ’cause he can’t talk. Can’t make no sounds or nothing.”

  Mace looked at Alisha. “Have you had him checked out?”

  Tears again filled Alisha’s eyes. “It was ’cause I doing drugs. Ain’t even know I was pregnant. Doctors say that messed up something in Ty’s head.”

  “I’m sorry,” said Mace.

  Alisha rubbed her eyes. “My damn fault for getting pregnant.”

  “You got raped, Alisha,” snapped Darren. “This ain’t nothing you did.”

  “Raped? Did they catch who did it?” asked Roy.

  Darren eyed his sister and then looked away in disgust.

  “Alisha?” said Mace. “Did you report the rape?”

  She shook her head.

  “Why not?”

  Darren spoke up. “’Cause the dude what raped her is named Psycho. He got the biggest crew around here. You go to the cops on him, you be dead. That’s why!”

  Mace sat back. “I know about Psycho. The guy’s been running his drug and gun op for nearly ten years. That’s a lifetime in that line of work. You’ve got to be real smart and even more dangerous to last that long.”

  “But the police can protect you,” said Roy. He glanced at Mace. “Can’t they?”

  Darren laughed. “Oh yeah. Sure they can. See, last time the police protected somebody ’round here against Psycho they found his head in a trash bag floating in the Anacostia with a sock stuffed in the mouth. They ain’t never found the rest of him. That’s some damn fine protection, now ain’t it?”

  Darren put Tyler down on the floor. “So you tell me what the hell you doing here?”

  “How about a chance to get out of here,” said Mace.

  “Outta here how?”

  “I’m working on a project with a professor from Georgetown.”

  “Georgetown! What the hell that got to do with us?”

  “I can explain it to you.”

  Darren looked like he was about to start shouting again, but then he sat down and motioned at her. “Go on then. Tell me.”

  Mace spent the next thirty minutes doing just that, filling in the basics first and then building on that. “The professor’s theory is that to survive on the streets of virtually any large city requires exemplary intelligence, nerve, daring, risk-taking, and the ability to adapt on the fly. Most people require familial support, a bed, a roof, some food, and relief from danger to function properly.”

  Darren looked sullen. “Ain’t that bad ’round here. Do what you got to do. We got a roof over our heads now. Food to eat. And she got family now. And ain’t nobody coming in that door unless they go through me first.”

  “But it’s not a normal life, Darren,” pointed out Mace. “You can’t reach your potential if you’re always worried about becoming homeless or not having enough food to eat, or waiting for somebody to put a bullet in your head.”

  “I can take care of myself.”

  Mace turned to Alisha. “You were selected from the files at Social.”

  “Why me?”

  “You’ve managed to support a special needs child while getting off drugs and after losing both parents. You currently hold down four part-time jobs while getting Tyler’s basic health care needs taken care of out of sheer persistence and more than a dash of ingenuity. And you did all this while just having celebrated your sixteenth birthday. I’d say that was pretty special.” Mace looked around the tiny apartment. “And you got this place using forged documents that showed you were eighteen and could legally sign a contract.”

  Alisha looked frightened. “I had to. After my grandma got killed folks came and took her apartment, kicked us out. After that we was living in a box in an alley off Bladensburg Road. Ain’t no place for a child. And Darren was gone.”

  Darren took her hand. “But I’m back now, baby sister. I take care of you and Ty.”

  Mace looked over at Darren. She really didn’t know what to do with him. “You can’t take care of them by robbing people. You’ll be right back in prison. Last night if I’d been a cop, you already would be.”

  Darren whirled on her. “You just get the hell out of here.”

  “When you go back to prison what happens to Alisha and Tyler? Psycho can come right through that door. Then what?”

  Darren started to say something but then just stared at the floor.

  Mace said, “So there it is, Alisha. That’s the offer.”

  “You trust this professor dude?” said Darren suddenly.

  “Yes I do. And he really cares.”

  “Why the hell he want to help folks like us?”

  Choosing her words carefully, she said, “It’s like he’s building his own crew.”

  The angry look faded from Darren’s face. “So he be the boss then?”

  “Just until you can be your own boss,” Mace replied.

  Darren looked at his sister. “This shit sounds too good to be true. What next, some fat guy running in here waving a big-ass check with a bunch of balloons?”

  Mace said, “Darren, just to be clear, we didn’t know you were in the picture. I don’t know if the offer extends to you or not.”

  Alisha stood. “I ain’t gonna do nothing without Darren coming too.”

  “Hold on, hold on, girl,” said Darren quickly. “We got to think this through.”

  Mace stood. Roy did too. She said, “You don’t have to make up your mind now. It’s your choice. We have other appointments to get to.”

  Darren eyed her warily. “So if Alisha says no, then he just gets somebody else?”

  “That’s the plan, yeah. There are ten to start with.”

  Alisha said quickly, “When do he got to know?”

  “A week.”

  Alisha started to say something but Darren turned to Mace. “You tell your boss that Alisha’s gonna do it.”

  “With you along, you mean? I’ll have to check on that.”

  “No. He ain’t got to worry about me. Just Alish and Ty.”

  “Darren!” cried Alisha. “You ain’t know what you saying.”

  Darren turned to her. “I take care of myself. Always have.”

  “But you ain’t got nobody. The jerks in this building be jumping you already.”

  “I said I can take care of myself.”

  “But Darren—”

  He turned back to Mace. “You tell the man that Alisha be part of his crew. And Ty too. That’s it, no more talking.”

  “Okay.” Mace looked over at Tyler, who was watching all of this from the corner. For the first time in a long time, Mace actually felt a lump in her throat. “They have some great doctors at G-town. They can take a look at your son.”

  Alisha nodded. “Okay,” she said in a low voice.

  Mace turned back to Darren. “I thought I had you figured out. But I was wrong. And I’m almost never wrong about stuff like that.”

  “You listen up, anything bad happens to Alisha or Ty, you got me to deal with.” He went into the bedroom and closed the door.

  Roy and Mace left the apartment. They hadn’t gone ten feet when Non ran up to them, looking scared.

&
nbsp; “You two got to get outta here right now!”

  “What’s up, Non?” asked Mace. “Is Jerome on the warpath?”

  “I wish it just be him. Psycho found out you were talking to Alisha. He’s coming over here. I think he believes you’re the Five-oh and Alisha told you stuff.”

  “Will he try to hurt her?” Mace said quickly.

  “I don’t know. But that man is bad news all around.”

  Mace grabbed Roy’s arm. “Come on, this way.”

  She led him down the hall to a different set of stairs. They fled down them, passing pill poppers, syringe stickers, and one guy fornicating with his lady while smoking a joint.

  “What about Alisha and Ty?” asked Roy worriedly.

  “I’m trying to call Beth, only I can’t get a damn signal in here.”

  They reached the ground floor, ripped open the door, raced down a short stretch of hall, and then ran outside. And stopped.

  A dozen men stood there. One of them, the tallest, stepped forward. He had a big smile and his eyes had the look of a man who was used to telling people what to do.

  Roy looked at Mace. “Please tell me that’s not Psycho.”

  Mace didn’t answer. She just kept her eyes right on the guy coming at them.

  CHAPTER 60

  PSYCHO CIRCLED THEM once and then twice, nodding, smiling, and glancing at his men and then back at Mace and Roy. A little taller than Roy, he had on black jeans, a sparkling white T-shirt, and tennis shoes. Several gold chains were visible at the neckline of his tee. His hair was cut so short it was more like a membrane over his scalp. His forearms were veined, muscled, and heavily tattooed. Mace noted that his pupils were normal-sized and his forearms clear of needle marks. You didn’t last in that business if you were a user, she well knew. Life and death were often separated by only a rational, nimble decision.

  On the third pass he stopped and stood in front of them.

  “How’s Alisha?” Psycho asked in a surprisingly high-pitched voice.

  “Doing okay.”

  “They say you with Social? Why don’t I believe that?”

  “We’re not cops,” said Mace.

  “Hey, lady jumped right to it. Must be smart, so I know she’s not the blue.” His crew laughed. Psycho said, “Then let me play the ‘blues’ part, okay?” Not waiting for an answer, he stood straight and assumed a mock stern expression. “Now you two got anything on your person that might concern me?”

  Several of his crew guffawed at this.

  “Not unless you object to a set of keys and a couple cell phones,” said Mace.

  “Couple?”

  “Yeah, one for business and one for pleasure.”

  Psycho flicked his hand and two of his men came forward and performed the frisk. One squeezed Mace’s butt and he got an elbow driven into his gut for the trouble.

  “Whoa, lady got some fire,” said Psycho. “You step back in line there, Black,” he said to the doubled-over man. “Before you get your ass thumped.”

  He eyeballed Mace. “So no guns, no badge, that still don’t mean no cops. Could be undercover.”

  “Don’t even undercover agents carry guns?” asked Roy. “Especially coming around here?”

  Mace let a small groan escape as Psycho turned to Roy. “You got a problem with around here? What, you don’t like around here, Mayonnaise Boy?”

  Roy managed to swallow a sudden lump in his throat. “I never said that.”

  “Yeah, you ain’t got to say it. I smell it.” He glanced at Mace. “This your old lady?” He ran a tongue over his lips as he checked out Mace. “Fine-looking woman.”

  “It’s a business relationship,” said Roy, who instantly regretted having said it.

  “A business relationship!” whooped Psycho. “A business relationship?” He turned to his men. “He got himself a business relationship with the chick.”

  They all laughed, and then Psycho spun around so fast it was a blur. “Then you ain’t mind if I do this, then, business relationship dude?” He moved to squeeze one of Mace’s breasts, but Roy grabbed his hand and pushed it away.

  “Yeah I do mind.”

  The crew fell silent.

  Psycho looked down at the hand Roy had grabbed and then back up, his grin intact. “You really want to go there, mayo?”

  “Not really, no. And I won’t so long as you keep your hands off her.”

  “So not you then?” Psycho’s arm moved so fast Mace heard the impact before she even saw the swing of the fist. Roy staggered back, grabbing his face, and then fell down. The blood streamed down from his nose, and his eye was already swelling.

  Mace quickly moved in front of him. “Look, we talked to Alisha about helping her and her son. That’s all.”

  Psycho shoved her aside. “’Scuse me, bitch, but I ain’t done thumping me this asshole.”

  As Psycho advanced on Roy, Mace reached in her pocket for her Taser phone. But before she could snag it two of Psycho’s men grabbed her and held her arms behind her back.

  Psycho’s foot snapped into Roy’s gut, doubling him over.

  Mace yelled, “We’re leaving, okay? We’re outta here right now.”

  Psycho turned back around. “I say when you outta here. And how you outta here. Walking or not. Breathing or not. Up to me. Me!”

  He faced Roy and aimed a leisurely kick at his ribcage. The next moment Psycho had been spun around and was dumped on his knees. Roy’s arms were angled through Psycho’s arms and boxed around the other man’s head, his blood dripping onto Psycho’s scalp.

  Roy said, “Seventy pounds of torque to the right and your spine snaps right in half. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, you prick. And one of your guys pulls a gun, you turn into a corpse.”

  Psycho could only kneel there, his thick arms stuck uselessly out from his sides.

  “They will kill your woman. All I got to do is say it.”

  “You’re going to kill us both anyway. At least I’ll have the pleasure of taking you along for the ride.”

  “What’s this pounds of torque bullshit!”

  One of Psycho’s men stepped forward. “It’s Marines. It’s how they’re trained to kill perimeter sentries. Shit’s for real, boss,” he added quietly.

  Psycho looked up at his guy. “You in the Marines, Jaz?”

  “Older brother was. He told me.”

  “You a Marine?” Psycho said to Roy.

  “Would it matter?”

  “You kill me, they kill you and the woman. Now if you don’t kill me, I’m gonna kill you both. How ’bout that?”

  Roy looked past where Psycho’s men were standing. “How about
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