"For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song..."
-- Psalms 137:3
A barefoot woman in a torn dress was running along a cratered path between buildings. Her long hair, matted and wind-tousled, but silky as the inside of a coffin, flapped like ravens' wings against her shoulders. Her burnished arms, cross-hatched with scars, held the hands of two little boys who could barely keep up with her, moving so fast their feet were a blur.
The taller of the boys, dressed only in pajama pants, was sobbing uncontrollably. The face of the smaller boy, who had managed to put on one of his sneakers and only the top of his pajamas, was shut as hard as a door. Above them, the sky, clotted with stars, was as purple as a bruise.
Shades jerked as they ran past two more high-rises, past faces pressed curiously against windowpanes and hallways spilling over with junkies and teenagers. Laughter tittered behind them. A yellow dog, tied with frayed rope to an iron railing, lunged in vain. They ran on, breaths heaving, and a woman collecting cans from a driveway paused knowingly, pointed toward the last tenement's open hallway door.
"Come on," she beckoned, but they ran on. It was a typical Friday night and the odor of burning dumpsters filled the air.
At the end of the last tenement, the makeshift path suddenly curved downward into high grasses filled with rats' nests and discarded trash. She dragged them on still, crushing through debris to the mesh fencing that separated the tenements from the river bottom. The shorter boy lost his sneaker here, but held tightly to her hand, refusing to cry.
The woman groped blindly until she found it, a hole, like a slit in the mesh. She pushed the shortest boy through first, angled herself through and dragged the sobbing boy in behind her.
"Shhh now..." She smacked him so hard he bit his lip.
The shouts of a running man silenced the cicadas. The woman looked fearfully toward the sound. Behind them, the mesh quivered and they knew, drunk as he was, he had found the breach.
Moving deftly in the darkness, they huddled at last under the familiar canopy of thick willow that had become, by now, more sanctuary than shelter. She held them close, her eyes closed, lips moving like a prayer in the darkness. They knew the routine. Sometimes she dragged them here and they stayed for days, living off wild blueberries or leeks or whatever else they could find. Other times, when he appeared suddenly at the door, she sent them there alone, shoving them out the back door and into the dark hallway where they stumbled all the way down the stairs and to the river.
Now, in the grainy darkness, the smallest boy's eyes glowed like a cat's. He could smell the rich, dark riverbank soil, hear the suck of water as it slapped and lapped along the water's edge. He was the cause of all of this inconvenience and the reason the left side of their mother's pretty face was beginning to blacken and swell. One day he might mistakenly stumble through the bramble and actually find their secret place, find the three of them crouched there, huddled there as always, praying for their lives. Hatred gleamed and welled up inside of him now, the shiny blackness filling him so completely that it tangled and caught in his throat, made it difficult to breathe. He swallowed hard, tried coughing into his fist, but it refused to move. Looking up in the darkness at his mother, he saw the wetness sliding from her eyes, the bruised skin swelling like a hill along her left temple. She began her humming as usual, tonguing the words of the song he knew by heart now. Loving her was too risky he decided right then, and was relieved to hear the soft patter of rain echoing around them. Soon they'd all be drenched and the river would swell near its borders, but it was alright. The rain, like any water, was a brilliant distraction. Water, he thought, looking again toward the murky river that seemed to lord over everything, was the only constant thing worth depending on.
It had rained all day and the fat heavy drops mucked up the riverbank closest to the water's edge. Lincoln Duvall was squatting, rocking back and forth on his heels, watching the surface of the water as it broke to swallow the last rock he'd cast into its center. Water was like life, he thought. Swallowed you up so fast it was like you'd never existed at all.
He knew it before it happened. Saw it in his mind's eye first, the heavy dark boots plunging and plowing through the mud and down the bank toward him. He'd be tall and wiry and pale as an egg. His arms would be held out to balance his body against the weight of gravity pulling him down. He'd be wearing black jeans and a brown hoodie under his leather jacket. He'd be carrying a striped umbrella that made walking in the mud even more difficult. He wouldn't be able to manage it and would fall on his behind. He'd jump up cursing everything then.
"What's up, Man? You coming?" The words shouted against the wind slapped him full in the face. "Look at you. I knew I'd find you here. Tripping at the river as usual..."
Linc looked up knowingly and saw he was right as usual. It was Ghost in the expected attire.. He held the striped umbrella forward like an offering, his words slurring into the rain. "It's late, Man. We gonna miss 'em if we don't get up to The Boulevard now."
"Now?" Ghost pressed.
"I said I was coming." Linc turned back to watch the last ripple. He loved the relentless violence of the rain, loved how it punctured the water's surface like a thousand daggers.
"C'mon if you coming. Don't see why you always gotta do this anyway." Ghost kissed his teeth, annoyed at the prospect of having to wedge his six-foot-four body through the fence again, to wade through all that brush and mud. He turned to start back toward the wards and slid backward easily, the umbrella flying out of his hand. Linc watched as he clamored to his feet cursing and sputtering mud.
"See. You need to learn what your momma shoulda taught you a long time ago."
"Mind your business."
Linc cast a warning gaze on him and Ghost felt the heat and raised his chin. A chill swept through him. Linc probably made him fall, he thought. Linc was good for that. Was good for casting his will on innocent people and making them prey. One look into his predator eyes and you knew it was possible. Dark, hypnotic, menacing eyes like that weren't human. Eyes that could whip you without putting a hand on you, and regardless of how tough a man was in The Street, eyes like that were impossible to stare into for long. So Ghost caved in like he always did. He averted his own eyes quickly. There was no point in wondering how Lincoln had stood out in the rain all that time without an umbrella and still not managed to get wet. Nothing about Linc Duvall ever made sense.
"I never capped nobody in the rain," said Ghost. "I got a feeling there's gonna be something different about this time."
Sensing fear, Linc scowled his disgust, but said nothing.
"I guess it shouldn't be no different than all the others. Just the way I feel somehow."
Again Linc didn't respond. They stood there quietly, looking out over the restless water.
"Capping. What does it mean anyway? Decapitation? Taking off somebody's head?"
Lincoln glanced at his Rolex and frowned. "I hope so," he said finally. He edged forward then, as close as he could get, and hacked into the river.
Ghost shivered in the raw dampness. The wind was blowing ferociously, threatening to snatch his umbrella or at least blow it inside out. He struggled to close it as Lincoln looked up and pointed a finger toward the sky. The wind seemed to hiccup and then lie still. An eerie calm suddenly hung over the edge of the river. Ghost sneezed twice and hurried to get out of the pelting rain. The wind had not held but the day was still miserable and bleak, fading into growing darkness. It was a day void of life and beauty, Ghost thought, a most ugly day to die.
"Gabby? Hey you. Hankerson wants to see you in his office. 'Pronto,' he says."
Slumped forward at her desk with both hands clutching her forehead, she didn't move. Not because she hoped he'd go away, but because she couldn't move and it looked to the short man in the Brooks Brothers suit leaning half of his body into her cubicle, that she was crying.
"Hey you..." He drummed the foam partition with his stubby fingers and waited. "Gabriella?" he called softly, readjusting the newspaper folded under his arm. "I heard the call about the shooting in the second ward this morning and I knew it was yours. Are you okay? Were you hurt out there?"
Gabriella Sinclaire sighed at last and sat up. Raking tired fingers through her tousled hair, she looked over her shoulder into the denim-colored eyes. Her cheeks were wet, her lashes thickened by the salty water. She wore a gray skirt and a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar. On the front of the snowy blouse, a red blotch the size of a cabbage, bloomed like a rose.
She breathed deeply, fingered the stained collar. "I can't do this anymore, Joe. I just can't. It's just not fair."
He put down the paper and crouching beside her chair, pressed a warning finger against his lips. He watched a single tear slide down the bridge of her nose. He reeked of coffee and tobacco and the tuna baguette he'd had for lunch. Joe was a senior editor who had been with The Heartford Chronicle for close to thirty years. He'd be retiring soon, and once he was gone, Gabriella wasn't sure how she'd survive the newsroom's cutthroat climate. Joe was more than a boss. He was a comrade-in-arms.
Now, the police radio dangling from his hip crackled with static. Another call was coming in. Two more cruisers were being dispatched to the first of the three wards to solve yet another domestic dispute. They looked at each other and this time it was Joe who s...
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.