Bikky shifted his heavy backpack onto his other shoulder, and slouched out of Colossal Cone Ice Cream Parlour with the treat he had been fantasizing about all morning in his hand: the triple Cherry Blossom Samurai Slam in a jumbo chocolate waffle cone. Best damn ice cream dessert on the planet.
He knew there wouldn't be any ice cream this awesome in the stupid Philadelphia boonies. He started off down the street wondering if maybe he should have gone home first to ditch this load of books he was schlepping. It was the second load, too. He had been issued enough books and homework assignments to keep him busy every night of the whole shitty summer. They had some nerve calling this pile of crap the make-up assignments for the measly week and a half of school he was going to be missing. What the hell were all these extra books? The teacher had said it was something about him missing the exams that were starting next week. Whatever. Bikky took a defiant lick of his Samurai Slam. This was all Ryo's fault.
Bikky sighed. He was mad at Ryo, of course, but he was also kind of mad at the world right now. He wished he didn't have to eat this totally cool ice cream cone by himself. Carol loved Colossal Cone as much as he did. But, dammit, she had disappointed him, too. When he had caught up to her on the D'Ancy side of the cafeteria, he had been hopeful that he could talk her into skipping out of school with him this afternoon. He was shipping out early the next morning-- this was basically his last afternoon in Manhattan until Ryo succeeded in arresting that dirtbag Mike Abernathy. And Bikky didn't hold out any hope of that happening anytime soon.
Carol had a big paper due. She had to study. She had to go over her notes for her History exam. Feeling sorry for himself, Bikky used his tongue to dig one of the cherries out of his cone. Okay, he accepted that she was a serious student and she saw doing well in school as her ticket to a better life. But couldn't she have made an exception just this once? Bikky spat the cherry stem savagely at a fire hydrant. It fell short.
Well, at least he would see Carol tomorrow, because of course she was coming with him and Ryo and Dorkhead for the drive to Devon. He kicked at an old newspaper on the sidewalk. Shit. He really appreciated that she was coming with him to say good-bye, but they wouldn't be alone tomorrow. Today would have been their last chance to be alone together for God knew how long. Damn, damn, damn. How was he going to get through the summer without her? He missed her already.
He worked away at his ice cream cone, deep in thought and hardly even tasting it because his head was so full of thoughts and feelings. Why was it that he had stayed mad at Ryo for more than a week, but he couldn't seem to hold onto any feelings of resentment toward Carol? It was always like this. He couldn't find it in himself to blame her for just being her. But his resentment of Ryo was another thing altogether. Maybe it was because Carol didn't have total control over his life like Ryo did.
There was a police station coming up, and Bikky slowed his steps, considering whether to walk right past it or take another route. He had spent most of his childhood dodging cops because they were the natural enemies of a boy who was a petty thief. It had taken almost his whole first year with Ryo to stop automatically feeling nervous whenever he saw a uniform. He had learned from Ryo, Dee and their friends that not all cops were bad, and if you weren't doing anything illegal, you didn't have anything to worry about from them. But recent experiences had soured him again. He realized that cops were just like any other group of people. There were good, bad, stupid, smart, honest, dirty--- every type of person was represented among cops. He knew he was luckier than most people who got set up or beaten up by bad cops, because he at least had Ryo and Dee pulling for him. But there was only so much they could do. Better to avoid trouble.
He looked around, wondering whether he was nearer to a bus stop or a subway station, when he caught sight of a familiar figure coming out of the police station's front door. It was Shantaya. Even from this distance, he could see that her face was swollen. Maybe that shithead Rick had beaten her up again. Had she actually just tattled on him to the cops? Bursting with curiosity, Bikky started forward, prepared to walk right past all those guys in uniform to catch up with her. He would have called her name, but he didn't want to draw attention to himself so close to all those uniforms and their cars and their power. There were cops lingering outside, as always, some of them smoking, mostly just shooting the breeze with each other or getting in and out of their cruisers. He hoped they would ignore him, and they did.
He was gaining on Shantaya, despite his heavy load of books, because she couldn't really move fast in her high-heeled shoes. A moment later, he was glad he hadn't called out her name because who of all people stepped out from between two buildings and stopped her, but Rick, her scum-bucket pimp! Bikky stopped too, fearful for her, and hoping Rick wouldn't start yelling at her. But Rick didn't look pissed off at all. Instead, he smiled and handed her something, which she put in her mouth, after glancing around self-consciously.
When they started walking again, Bikky couldn't resist following them to see if he could get some idea of what was going on. He didn't like the creepy way Rick had smiled. Also, he could see by the shaking of Shantaya's shoulders that she was crying. When they went down the steps at the Essex Street subway station, he followed after them, burying himself in the middle of a group of women with shopping bags. Down on the platform, he lurked behind a pillar and was able to catch a few words of what Rick was saying.
"We gotta get rid of this guy," he said. "I owe it to my buddy, Alan."
Which guy? Obviously Rick had sent Shantaya to the cops to rat on someone, and she wasn't happy about it. When they got on the train, Bikky kept to the opposite end of the train car, his hat pulled down over his eyes, hoping he didn't look too conspicuous. Rick sat close to Shantaya, and continued talking to her insistently in a low voice. She just sat there silently with tears rolling down her cheeks. She had a pretty bad shiner. Bikky wondered if Rick was the guy who had done that to her. He knew Rick was capable of it because he used to beat up his former girl, Tamara, too. It seemed to be part of the job description for a pimp. But it was equally possible that Shantaya had run into a bad trick. That was the part of the pimp job description that Rick didn't seem to get-- protecting his working girls. That dickhead only liked the part where he bossed them around and took all their money. Bikky watched the couple from behind his sunglasses with narrowed eyes. He had hated Rick for as long as he had known him, and he looked forward to the day when he would finally be big enough to do something about it.
The train rattled and shook, and new people got on and off at each station. Bikky couldn't really understand why he followed Rick and Shantaya all the way to North Harlem, except that he was bored, had no one else to hang out with, and he wanted to make sure Shantaya was okay. An opportunistic part of him was also thinking that it might be handy to find out where Rick and Shantaya were living, just in case he ever got an opportunity to jam Rick up. When the pair got off the train at their station, Bikky once more trailed after them. He was surprised and pleased when Rick took off, saying something about a guitar, and left Shantaya to go home alone. Bikky hung back, hiding behind a kiosk until Rick was out of sight, then he trotted after Shantaya. He decided not to let her know he was following her just yet, in case she didn't want to let him find out where she lived. She had always been friendly to him, but she, just like all the denizens of his old 'hood, could never forget that Bikky's new dad was a cop. A lot of his former friends didn't trust him on account of this.
With this in mind, he waited until he saw her turn into a shabby, crumbling concrete building with a passed-out wino in front of it. The front door was not the locking kind. He rushed in after her and surprised her by joining her in the elevator.
"Bikky!" she exclaimed, and the plate that held her two front teeth in place slipped down as her mouth dropped open.
"Hey, Shantaya." A quick glance at the elevator button panel told him they were going to the second floor. "'Sup with your face?"
Her fingers fluttered to her swollen cheek for a moment, and she looked sad. "Aw this is nothin', honey," she said. "I used to get worse from Tino." The elevator stopped and she looked uncomfortably at Bikky before stepping out of it. "Say... why ain't you in school?"
Bikky rolled his shoulders under the weight of his backpack and shrugged. "I'm taking the afternoon off," he said. "Weather's too nice to be in school today." He waited for her to start walking toward her apartment, but she was still hesitating.
"Did Rick beat you up again?" he asked loudly, hoping it would embarrass her enough that she would whisk him inside her apartment.
She winced and shushed him, and then exactly as he had hoped, hurried him down the hall to a door with chipped and peeling paint. Obviously this building did not have a caretaker like the hardworking Mr. Humphries back home.
"Now you can't stay long," she warned him. "Rick could be back anytime, and it would be a whole lot better for everyone if he didn't find out you ever came here. You know, what with yo' daddy bein' a cop and all."
"Sure, I gotcha." Bikky followed her in, and noted with approval that she not only locked the door but pulled the chain over, too. He had lived in this kind of building before, and you really needed a chain.
She made a beeline for the fridge and took a cold pack out of the freezer, which she pressed to her swollen face. "Oh! That's better."
"Does it hurt a lot?"
"It hurts the usual amount, sweetness. I'm sure you've had shiners before. You wanna soda?"
"Sure! Thanks." Bikky eagerly took the can of no-name grapefruit soda she offered him and popped it open. He was suddenly conscious of being incredibly thirsty. It was a hot day, and he hadn't had anything to drink since a glass of OJ this morning before school. He sat down at her rickety kitchen table without being asked to and gratefully took the heavy backpack off his shoulders before he drank. She didn't sit down with him. Instead, she drifted about the kitchen opening and closing cabinets aimlessly. Bikky felt that she was avoiding making eye contact with him, and assumed it was because she felt self-conscious about her bruised face.
"Don't worry about your face, Shantaya. You're still pretty," he told her with a grin, hoping to make her feel better. "You always were the finest girl on the block."
"Aw Bikky." Her voice was all squeaky, and when she turned around, she had her arms wrapped around herself and he could see she was crying again. "You little man."
Bikky knew that she needed a hug. Women usually wanted to be hugged when they cried unless they were pissed off at you, in which case they needed a hug from someone else. He got up, meaning to hug her, and then hesitated when he understood that he was the wrong height to hug her without her large tits getting pressed into his face. Thinking about that made him hang back and blush. Finally, he stepped forward and squeezed her hand instead. "Don't cry, Shantaya," he said. "Rick ain't worth it."
"No, he ain't," she agreed. "I think I'm crying fo' myself." She sniffled. "And fo' you."
"For me?" Bikky asked, bewildered. "Why? You know I'm doin' all right nowadays."
"Not when Rick gets done messin' with yo' daddy, you ain't." She almost couldn't look at him, and Bikky found himself going icy cold.
"What, Shantaya? What's going on? You gotta tell me." He tugged urgently on her hand, and was forced to wait while several sobs escaped her. Impatiently he stepped over to a roll of paper towel and yanked a couple of sheets off it before handing them to her. "Come on, blow your nose and tell me what Rick's got against my dad. Come on, I got a right to know!"
She mopped at her face with the towel and managed to get herself under control. "Yeah," she said. "You got a right to know." There was a pause while she blew her nose. "But I think you gonna hate me when you find out what I did."
Detective Tina Greenspan sat in the front passenger seat of a cruiser driven by Officer Banks, wishing she had a pair of earplugs to dim the noise being made by that pathetic creature in the back seat. It had kept up a shrill cacophony of operatic yelping practically since the time Agent Spacey had made Banksy carry it to the car. How could so much noise come out of such a small animal? And how the hell had she let herself get talked into taking it home with her? She wasn't home often enough to look after a pet. As a detective, she often worked long and irregular hours. And furthermore, she wasn't exactly a dog person. And even if she were, she would rather have a different type of dog, like that cute little one that Paris Hilton carried around in her designer tote. Not this lumpy, squashy-faced thing with his ribs sticking out and patches of fur missing. If he wasn't cute when he was a puppy, he was definitely never going to be a good-looking dog. But to hell with good-looking. She wasn't going to keep him long anyway, and at this point she would have just settled for him being quiet.
"Little guy must be scared." Banksy shot her a pained look. He was obviously feeling guilty for shooting the puppy's mother. Agent Spacey had really gone up one side of him and down the other about that.
"I guess so," she said.
"Probably never been in a car before."
Tina looked at the animal in the back seat. Instead of sitting still, he was prowling back and forth on the back seat. The filthy blanket Banksy had carried him in had already been kicked to the floor. "I hope he doesn't have fleas or anything," she remarked.
The big officer scratched his chest surreptitiously. "I think he might," he said. "You're gonna have to give him a bath."
"What? A bath?" she stared at him in horror, thinking of her spotless bathroom and her fluffy new towels. "But-- I've never given a dog a bath before!"
Banksy gave her a tired smile. "Judging by the smell of him, it'll probably be a new experience for him, too."
Tina leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. She did NOT want to give that creature a bath. But Banksy was right-- he sure needed one. She wrinkled her nose at the strong smell of dog, and then her eyes popped open as a new smell was added to it. "Oh my God, I think he just peed in the car."
"Shit," said Banksy morosely.
"Um... that too." Tina turned around and looked into the back seat again, her eyes wide with horror as they confirmed what her nose had just told her. Sure enough, the puppy was crouching on the seat, making little huffing noises and producing a turd of a size that she never would have thought physically possible for such a small animal. He seemed far from finished, too. It just kept coming and coming. The sight made her gag, and she quickly turned back, clapping a hand over her mouth. Her shoulders convulsed as she felt her gorge rising. The combination of smells was overwhelming! It was suddenly too much for her. "Oh my God, Banksy, pull over!" she cried.
"They trying to get yo' white daddy in trouble," Shantaya said. "Rick took my jewelry, my good pieces, a couple gold necklaces and one ruby bracelet. I think he took my diamond studs too, 'cause I can't find 'em. But I didn't think he even knew about 'em.' She sighed. "He took my meds, too."
She wrung her hands together and looked at him, her face flushing with distress. "I think they gonna put em in your daddy's car or something. They said they got some keys..."
"What? What keys? But my dad doesn't even have a car...." The wheels turned in Bikky's head. Keys. Shit! "What else, Shantaya?"
"Honey, now don't be mad... but he made me go to the police station. He made me swear out a complaint."
"What kind of complaint?"
"That yo' daddy came here and sexually harassed me, then took my prescription drugs and my girl-bling."
"What?" Bikky stared at her. This was worse than he had thought. "You told the police that?"
Shantaya's face scrunched up again. "I had to," she wailed. "Bastard took my teeth! I was in for a worse beatin' if I didn't cooperate. You don't know what it's like. I ain't strong enough to fight back." She wept while Bikky awkwardly patted her back.
"Shantaya, thanks for telling me. You've done a lot just by telling me. I'm gonna tell my dad, okay? You gonna be all right?"
"I'd be better if I still had my pills," she said, wiping fiercely at her eyes. "Now I gotta go back to the doctor and tell him I need more percocet and diazepam. Even with this here police report, he might not believe me. Dammit."
"Shantaya, you shoulda tried to hold some back for yourself."
"It happened too fast, honey. Rick came home in a humongous tizzy this morning on account of some big police raid at the joint where he been staying lately. Me, I was hardly even awake. Your daddy came to the door 'bout an hour later."
"He didn't get the address from me," Bikky said defensively. "I didn't even know where you lived until today."
"Well, he prob'ly got it from one of Rick's friends they picked up in that raid. Rick got away."
"Rick's got a rep for that," said Bikky, frowning. "He's pretty good at getting away."
"Anyway honey, like you said, you best be headin' on home. I don't want Rick comin' back and catching you here. There'll be hell to pay for both of us, especially me. You can't stay here no mo' today."
"Don't worry, I'm goin'." Bikky was in just as much of a hurry to leave as she was for him to go. He had to let Ryo know that Shantaya had lied to the police about him, like right fucking now. But he still needed more information. "First I gotta know why Rick's doing this. And you said 'they'. Who's the other guy?" Bikky picked up his book bag off the kitchen floor, but both he and Shantaya froze when they heard the front door bang open and get stopped by the chain.
"Woman, open this goddamn door, you hear me?" Uh-oh, that was Rick's voice. "Why you got the fuckin' chain on?"
"I'm scared o' po-po, baby, cops!" Shantaya called back, shooing Bikky frantically toward an open door beyond the kitchen. She went to the living room to let Rick in, while Bikky darted inside the room she had indicated.
It seemed to be Rick's music room, as it was full of different instruments and speakers. There was a window on one wall. Bikky looked out of it and figured he could get out that way if he had to run in a hurry. They were on the second floor and it looked down onto a tiny cement courtyard. It was kind of a big drop, but it wouldn't be the first time he had jumped out of a second floor window. When he tried to open the window, however, it squeaked rather loudly. He immediately abandoned his efforts and squeezed into the closet instead. Rick's bellowing voice was coming closer.
"Goddamn Casper took my guitar to the fuckin' pawn shop! My best synth, too! They want a hundred bucks to get 'em out! Fucking bastards, can you believe that?"
Bikky hoped he wasn't going to come into this room. Although he thought Rick was the lowest kind of scum, and had fantasies of beating him up, he knew there was no way he could take the guy. Maybe in a couple of years when he was a little bigger and heavier, but not today. He dreaded what Rick might do to him if he found him, but he dreaded what would happen to Shantaya even more.
"What are you gonna do, honey?" Shantaya asked Rick. Bikky hated the subservient tone she used.
"You got any cash?"
"I told you befo'-- just twenty-five bucks but I need it for my new meds--"
"Forget your goddamn meds, bitch! Hand it over right now! You want money, you best get your ass out there and earn some!"
"Baby, I can't go out lookin' like this!" Shantaya's voice rose in alarm.
"Why the fuck not? So what if you got a shiner? Lotta working girls do. Ain't nuthin' wrong with your pussy. I didn't bust your mouth, neither, so go suck a few cocks and then you can get them goddamn meds."
"But baby, it's the middle of the day--"
"Quit making fucking excuses, woman! I got no patience for this shit right now. I got a gig tonight and I need my fucking guitar."
Bikky heard Shantaya crying and Rick telling her to shut the fuck up. He crouched in the closet with his fists clenched, wishing there was something he could do. When the door to the music room banged open, Bikky's heart pounded so hard he felt like he couldn't breathe, and he shrank further back in the closet. There was an old green backpack in there that seemed to have a couple of speakers in it. He wriggled until he was semi-behind it, pulling his own backpack with him. Rick clattered around in the room for a few minutes muttering to himself. A couple of drawers scraped open and then slammed shut. Rick stomped out of the room again. Bikky exhaled a tiny sigh of relief, but all his muscles remained tense.
"Here, snort this if you gotta have somethin'." Rick was obviously giving Shantaya some drugs.
"Oh! Thanks, baby."
"But you ain't gettin' no mo' 'til you come back home with a decent wad of cash, you got that? There ain't no free ride round here, you lazy cow."
"I know, honey. You surely said so often enough."
"Now, I'm goin' down to Jimmy's to play some pool, maybe earn a few bucks. You better not be here when I get back."
"I understand, Rick."
When Bikky was sure that Rick was gone, he pushed his way out of the closet, crawling on the grimy, cigarette-burned carpet. Despite his efforts to be careful, the backpack with the speakers in it fell over on its side. He knew he couldn't leave it like that, so he picked it back up again and started shoving it back into the closet. After a moment he stopped what he was doing and took a closer look. Holy fuck. What the hell?
"Bikky?" Shantaya's voice was low. "You okay?"
"Yeah." He tore his eyes away from the backpack. "You?"
"Just fine, just fine. I think we should give him ten minutes to get clear, and then you really gotta go, you understand?"
"Sure thing, Shantaya." He looked at the backpack again. "Say, do you know how long Rick's had this backpack?"
"That old thing? I dunno. Maybe a month? I really don't pay no attention to his music crap. Could be longer. Why?"
"Oh, it's just a nice one," Bikky lied. "Camping size. This kind of pack can hold a lot of stuff."
"Yeah, I guess that's why he got it," she said. "He's always movin' equipment around." She looked at her watch and then back at him. "Listen, I'm gonna go powder my nose, and then we gonna move you on outta here, okay?"
Bikky nodded. "Don't worry, Shantaya. He'll never know I was here." Bikky briefly considered taking Eddie's backpack home to show Ryo, but decided it would be better if he left it here and just told Ryo about it instead. It was kind of unique. From the cannabis patch sewn clumsily on the side, to the chipped iron-on of Elvis on the middle pocket, he would know this pack anywhere. Up until really recently, it had belonged to his friend, Eddie Calvetti. Only Eddie had been murdered, and the police had hit a dead end in their efforts to catch the murderer. This was a clue, a major clue. Up until now, Bikky had been thinking that the corrupt Lieutenant Abernathy had somehow been responsible for Eddie's death. But if so, what was Eddie's backpack doing here?
~end of Chapter 18~
Thank you for reading!
Additional Author's notes: The last time anyone saw Eddie's backpack, it was in chapter (24) of A New Day. If you don't mind being spoiled, you can go read that chapter.