Jill stood stock-still, quaking, as the shower curtain was yanked back, revealing her pitiful hiding place.
"What the–?" exclaimed an apparition in a strange, floor-length overcoat. He looked like Moses in a duster. Especially if Moses had recently been sleeping on the streets of New York and had lost all interest in personal grooming.
Jill held her finger to her lips. "Shhhh! Please! Shhhh!" There was no way she wanted that Irish asshole in the next room to know about her existence, especially since she now remembered who he was. For some reason, however, she wasn't scared at all of Moses here.
He stared at her in utter astonishment with his mouth hanging open for several long seconds, while Jill hunched her shoulders in misery and tried to look as young and imploring and harmless as possible.
Finally, the guy shut his mouth with a snap, and the surprised look faded from his features, to be replaced by bright-eyed curiosity. "Who da hell are you?"
"I'm...uh, Jennifer," she whispered. No need to tell this person her real name.
"Hiya Jennifer. I'm Andre. Nice to meet you. So...." He stuck out a hand. "Why you in da shower stall?"
Jill felt she had no choice but to shake the proffered hand. At least she was in a position to know that he had washed it with soap and water. "Shhh! Please, not so loud!" she whispered. "I don't want your friend out there to know I'm here."
Andre's eyes took on a shrewd look, but his voice dropped, thank God. "Oh, you work for Mike, too?"
"No, I've never met him. But I don't want to. He's a... bad man." She let go of Andre's hand and blinked at him beseechingly.
"You got dat right. Take some advice from Andre and don't never work for Mike. He own you forever if you do."
"Just don't tell him I was here, okay? I'll keep real quiet until you guys are gone."
"Don't be scared, Jennifer. Old Andre know how to keep his mouth shut."
A shout rang out from somewhere near the bedroom. "Andre! Let's get a move on, man! How long does it take to empty your bladder?"
"Yeah, Mike, be right dere!" Andre called back. Then he looked back at Jill and blushed, suddenly shy. "You hear me take a piss, don't you?"
Jill shook her head earnestly. "No, no, I don't think so! I wasn't really... listening. I was too worried," she whispered. "I was like this." She demonstrated by holding her hands over her ears and hunching her shoulders.
Andre grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, sure," he said. "Whatever. You cute when you lie. I go now. I no tell Mike, relax, you safe."
"Thank you," she whispered, and gave him her brightest smile.
"Hey! You look just like Maria."
"Andre! Now!" Mike's voice seemed to be moving closer to the bathroom door. In another few seconds, he'd be banging on it.
Jill gave Andre a wide-eyed look and pulled the shower curtain back across.
Andre opened the door and stepped out, saying, "Sorry, Mike, I ready now! Let's go," in a hearty voice.
"What are ye looking so guilty about, man? You've not been snoopin' about in there, have you?"
Jill heard Andre repentantly owning up to snooping just a little as they moved back down the hallway. She stayed where she was until she discerned the sound of the heavy apartment door closing, followed by the sharp click of the lock. Even then, she stayed where she was for another fifteen minutes, just in case they came back.
Now she had a name for the Irish voice she had heard on the phone that day last week when she had decided to listen in on Rianne's extension. It was the same guy who was here today with Andre. Mike, he was, AKA 'Doritos puppet-master'. Rianne was frightened of him, Jill knew. Her aunt's voice had been all but shaking when Mike had given her her orders.
Jill sat down on the edge of the tub and looked down at her carelessly-painted toenails in her cheap blue sandals. That phone call had allowed her to be in the right place at the right time in Chinatown. Rianne knew she had been listening of course because she got all screechy-mad after, and kicked her out. But Rianne didn't know how much she had overheard, although she may have guessed when she watched the news that night and realized that her own niece had been one of three teens caught up in a case of police brutality. All courtesy of 'Mike'. Jill smiled to herself and wondered how much this information might be worth, and to whom.
"What do you mean, there's no fucking laptop?" The transit cop glared at mustache and skull cap.
Bikky was kind of amazed that skull cap's hat had stayed on his head all during the brawl on the stairs. Was the friggin' thing glued on, or what? The little group had finally gotten off the escalators and was now occupying a corner of the platform. Bikky had resolved to keep his mouth shut, and Kenny was doing the same, although Dave periodically whispered hushed questions and observations to them. He seemed to have returned almost to normal, which was a relief, assuming it held.
"Hey, Bikky, did ya notice that I dumped the second box? Pretty cool, or what?"
Bikky didn't answer but Kenny hissed back, "Woulda been cooler if you'da did it before they switched the escalator off, dumbass!"
"Well, how the fuck was I supposed to know– Yeow!"
"Shut the hell up!" whispered Bikky fiercely. He tapped his ear and pointed to the three men.
"Sorry, dude," said Kenny, and all three of them strained to listen.
"Look, man, there was shit all over the stairs," mustache was saying. "People goin' up and comin' down at the same time as we was tryin' to pick it up."
"We got everything that was on the stairs or the floor, even the brat's nine million fuckin' loose pages of shitty math homework!" skull cap insisted with a resentful look in Bikky's direction.
Bikky opened his mouth to say something sarcastic, then closed it again. Maybe skull cap had been traumatized by math homework in his youth. Maybe he never had a Ryo who would sit next to him and make him do it, patiently explaining fractions and decimals until the cows came home. Or, maybe more accurately for New York City, until the night shift workers came home. Never mind cows! Cows were for old cowboy movies. Bikky had not so far met a cow close up, but he could sense that there were going to be horses in his immediate future unless he could get himself and his buddies clean away from Abernathy's minions. And also somehow not turn up on YouTube later.
"Look, either some shithead found it on the stairs and ripped it off, or there never was no laptop!" mustache pointed out, glancing nervously at his watch.
Hmm, thought Bikky. Guy's worried about time...
"Or they stashed it somewhere in Queens," snarled the transit cop. Oblivious to the nods and grunts from his two confederates, he produced his cell phone and punched in a number.
"Lieutenant," he said tensely. "Yeah." A pause. "No, they don't have--" His side of the conversation went on hold for what seemed like five or six minutes while the person at the other end of the line blew a gasket. Actually, it sounded like he blew every gasket in Manhattan.
This thought caused Bikky to turn toward Dave. "What the hell is a gasket, man?"
Dave stared at him. "Uhhhh... it's a basket full of, er, gas! Right Kenny?"
"What? Are you guys nuts? Who the hell cares?"
Another train screamed into the station on the platform opposite them. It made so much noise that the transit cop just snapped his phone closed mid-call and jammed it into his pocket. When he returned his attention to the three boys, his eyes flashed with anger and frustration. "I'm gonna ask you again," he snarled. "Where is the goddamn laptop?"
"My mom said laptops are a waste of money and she ain't gonna buy me one 'cause I'd just kill it with gaming," offered Kenny boldly.
"We don't have a laptop," mumbled Dave, some of his fear returning. "Right Bikky?"
"We know you don't have the goddamn laptop anymore," the cop said. "Tell us where you put it, or who you gave it to!" His phone rang again, and he snatched it out of his pocket. "Uh-huh... Uh-huh...Got it," he said. "Lemme call you back." When he turned back to the boys, he didn't bother with Dave or Kenny, but instead focused his attention solely on Bikky. "Earlier today, you were at 9144 Desarc Road in Queens. Maybe I should send a team there to tear that house apart. You think the little brat who lives there will hand over the laptop?"
"No!" Bikky came alive and jumped forward, suddenly tossing all fanciful thoughts about cows and gaskets out of his mind. This wasn't a poker game; this was real life danger for innocent people way across town. "I left that house with the laptop! With the laptop, you hear me, assholes? It was in my book bag right up until you took us on the escalators. When this asshole here–" he indicated skull cap with a sweep of his hand– "tore the hell out of my book bag and sent my homework flying, my laptop fell out of the bag too. Now it's been friggin' ripped off by God knows who, and whose fault is that?"
Both mustache and the transit cop turned accusing eyes on skull cap, who loudly protested his innocence. Behind his back, Bikky wildly waved his fingers at Kenny and Dave. They both got the message and shot off running in different directions. Transit cop's head whipped back and forth like he was watching a particularly fast tennis game before he yelled at mustache and skull cap to give chase. Mustache glanced at his watch one more time, and departed at a mildly energetic trot after Dave. Bikky smirked in satisfaction. He had a feeling that no one would be seeing mustache again any time soon. As long as Dave didn't stop to have a nervous breakdown or a catatonic attack, he was gonna get home okay.
Skull cap, on the other hand, had taken off after Kenny like a dog on a cat's ass. If Bikky had had anyone to bet with, he would have laid five bucks on Kenny right then and there. He had only known Kenny for six months, but the kid was a hell of a good problem-solver. If he didn't get clean away, he would find a way to get skull cap either beaten senseless by an old lady with an umbrella, or arrested. The thing about Kenny was that he had guts. The only person on the planet that he seemed to truly fear was his mom. Bikky was not quite ready to admit that he feared her, too.
When the transit cop looked back at him, it was with a little more uncertainty than he had shown before. But he quickly mastered himself and scowled at Bikky. "Looks like it's just you and me, punk."
"Nope. You and me and YouTube," said Bikky.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"My friends got you with their cell phones," Bikky told him. "You and those two assholes that Mr. Abernathy wanted you to work with." He watched as all the color drained out of the cop's face.
"You shitty little rat, don't you threaten me."
Bikky's eyes narrowed. "I'm a minor, asshole. I'm thirteen years old. I know the routine. You gotta call for back up, and you gotta call youth services because kids automatically get representation."
The cop must have been a pretty good poker player. "I gotta, I gotta," he sneered, edging closer to Bikky. "Maybe all I gotta do is take you behind one of those pillars and–"
"–and get your face on Youtube, like I said," interrupted Bikky, backing away. "Does your lieutenant know you're working with Abernathy's guys?"
"They're undercover!" growled the cop. His hand started creeping toward the taser on his belt.
"Like shit!" Bikky snarled back. "The guy with the tats is a total junkie."
"He shoots in the black ink. Check his arms if he ever comes back."
The cop was silent, but continued slowly circling around Bikky. He subtly unsnapped his taser holder.
"You don't wanna do that," warned Bikky, feeling alarm starting to rise within him. He heard the scream of another train approaching, and his eyes darted this way and that. No one would be looking his way when a train was coming in. No one could hear him. This would be the best time for the cop to tase him, and they both knew it. Bikky swallowed nervously. Would the asshole actually do it? He sidled toward the edge of the short track railing, hoping he might get an opportunity to either jump onto the train, or lose himself in the crowds pouring out of it.
He found himself being subtly backed toward the edge of the platform. The massive rushing power of the train was at his back, and his cry for help was swept away by the rising shriek of its brakes. Terror, the likes of which he hadn't felt in a long time, swept over him. No way out. He was gonna get tased and/or backed into a fast moving train.
He watched the cop suddenly whip the taser out of his belt, but before he could aim it, it was like something hit him from behind. Eyes wide with surprise, the cop staggered right at Bikky, who instinctively flung himself flat with his hands protecting his head. A couple of long seconds later, he raised his head and looked up. The guy in the wheelchair was reaching down and patting his shoulder.
"Bikky!" he said "Are you okay? Bikky!"
Bikky stared at him, wondering if this day could get any more surreal. "Um..." he said. "Yeah. Think so." He moved his legs experimentally. He'd kind of felt asshole-cop stumbling over him, but not really coming down on top of any part of him. "What... what happened?"
"The gentleman you were talkin' to wasn't paying as much attention as he should have, and he unintentionally fell against the train," said the guy in the wheelchair. He seemed to be tucking something into his pocket as he spoke. Bikky couldn't be sure, but it sort of looked like the cop's taser. "Although it's possible that I may have accidentally bumped him. Perhaps. Can't really be sure about that, bobbing and weaving as the man was."
This guy was wearing sunglasses, which Bikky thought was really strange considering that the light wasn't really the greatest down here on this old platform. Maybe he was blind or something. Wait a minute, no he wasn't. This was the same guy who had caught the laptop in mid-air, like a star outfielder saving the game! But what about that damn cop? He was a dick, but Bikky hoped he wasn't seriously hurt.
"The cop hit the train?" Bikky rose onto his hands and knees and looked down the length of the platform to where a small crowd gathered around a fallen man. "How did he get all the way over there?"
The man shrugged. "I believe the train was still movin' when he struck it, and it spun him about somewhat."
"Is he... dead?"
"I doubt it, lad. Just a bit stunned." The guy in the wheelchair looked at the small crowd, too. "See that? His legs are twitchin'. Those kind people are helping him to sit up. In fact, I'd say he's comin' around." He pursed his lips and cocked his head sideways at Bikky. "Perhaps you ought not to be here when he does."
Bikky jumped to his feet, entirely seeing the point of that, but not yet ready to go. "Hey, man, I need my laptop back," he said urgently, his eyes darting all over the man's person. He was in a slant-wheeled manual wheelchair that didn't have a motor. It looked kind of like one of those athletic wheelchairs that Special Olympics athletes used, but Bikky couldn't be sure, never having paid all that much attention to the Special Olympics before. The man had a kind of black canvas pouch on his chest, like a backpack worn the wrong way around. That was probably where he had stashed the laptop.
"Hey!" Uh-oh, it was the cop. "Get that kid! Don't let him get away!" He was on his feet now, none too steady, but still spitting mad, and pointing an accusing finger at Bikky.
"Don't let him see you take it," muttered the wheelchair guy through his teeth. "Let him report you left without a laptop. Now go!"
"But I need that laptop!" Bikky insisted in a low voice.
"I'll see that you get it."
A middle-aged man in a track suit was starting towards Bikky. "That kid?" he said, looking over his shoulder at the transit cop.
"Yeah! He's wanted for theft. Stop him!" The cop tried to stagger forward, nearly losing his footing in the process.
"But... I don't know your name!" Bikky said desperately, dancing from foot to foot, his eyes darting between the track suit and his new friend.
"It's Tahawney. And you're Bikky MacLean of Wilson Lloyd Junior High. Get your ass home before it's too late. Go, go!"
Bikky whirled and ran, pausing only to snatch up his book bag from the collection of confiscated goods before bounding up the escalator stairs.
~end of Justice Chapter 12~
Additional Author's notes: As you may be aware, I've recently begun struggling with the issue of POV, after never giving it a thought throughout the whole of A New Day, and in fact for the first six or seven chapters of Justice. I had been wanting to keep it in a somewhat limited third person with mostly Dee and Ryo's POVs, but I've realized that I have to allow myself to go into other POVs at will because of the size of my plot and cast. For those who were hoping for more Dee and Ryo interaction in this chapter, I'm sorry to disappoint. I had a whole bunch of plot points that I needed to move along. It's like I'm playing chess with my characters, and much as we would all (yes, me included!) like to adjust the game so that Dee and Ryo can tumble into bed, it just wasn't possible considering the time frame of this chapter. Everything happened within the space of about four hours, and Dee and Ryo were at work during the whole time.
Regarding the subway station scene: I've never been to New York City, so I was working from photographs on the Internet in the construction of the action scene on the subway platform and escalators at Lexington and 53rd. If you would like to see what it looks like, please go here: http://www.nycsubway.org/perl/
Thank you, as always for reading my work. I appreciate your time and attention! The next chapter will appear in the second or third week of Feburary. It's one-third written at this time.