Robert B Parker
For Karen Panasevicla, who taught me about youth gangs, and about commitment.
And for my wife and sons, who have taught me everything else that matters.
Her name was Devona Jefferson. She was going to be fifteen years old on April 23, and she had a daughter, three months and ten days old, whom she had named Crystal, after a white woman on television. Crystal had the same dark chocolate skin her mother had, and the large eyes. She probably looked like her father too, because some of her didn’t look like Devona. But Devona didn’t know which one the father was, and she didn’t care, because Crystal was all hers anyway, the first thing she’d ever had that was all hers.
She loved carrying Crystal, loved the weight of her, the smell of her hair, the soft spot still in the back of her skull, where the white lady doctor at City had told her the skull hadn’t grown together yet. They were together most of the time, because there was no one to leave Crystal with, but Devona didn’t mind much. Crystal was a quiet baby, and Devona would carry her around and talk with her, about their life together and what it would be like when Crystal got bigger and how they’d be friends when Crystal grew up, because they’d be only fourteen years apart.
She had Crystal dressed that day in a new snowsuit with a little hood that she’d bought at Filene’s with money she’d gotten from a boyfriend named Tallboy who dealt dope and might be Crystal’s father. It was white satin with lace at the hood, and she liked the way Crystal’s face looked, so black in the middle of the white satin. Devona had on a pink sweatsuit with pink high-cut sneakers that she wore with rainbow shoelaces. It was a warm spring and she wasn’t wearing anything over the sweatsuit, even though she had Crystal bundled in her snowsuit.
She was on Hobart Street. It wasn’t her turf, but she wasn’t down special with one gang, and she might have even duked one of the Hobart Street Fros sometime. She wasn’t sure. Still she felt the little tight feeling in her stomach when the van crawled up behind her and followed along as she walked. She always felt a little protected when she had Crystal. People were usually more careful about a baby, and she always felt like she could protect her baby, which made her feel like she could protect herself.
She rounded the corner by Double Deuce with the spring sun warm in her face. The van came around behind her. Somebody spoke to her from the passenger side.
“You Tallboy’s slut?”
“I not no one’s slut,” she said. “I Crystal’s momma.”
Somebody else in the van said, “Yeah, she’s Tallboy’s.” And something exploded in her head. She never heard the shots that killed her, and killed Crystal. There were twelve of them, fired as fast as the trigger would pull, from a 9mm semiautomatic pistol through the back side door of the van. Devona fell on top of her baby, but it didn’t matter. Three slugs penetrated her body and lodged in the baby’s chest, one of them in her heart. Their blood was mixed on the sidewalk outside Twenty-two Hobart Street, when the first cruiser arrived. It wasn’t until the wagon came and they moved her to put her on the litter that anyone even knew the baby was there and they had two homicides and not one.
Hawk and I were running along the river in April. It was early, before the Spandex-Walkman group was awake. The sunshine was a little thin where it reflected off the water, but it had promise, and the plantings along the Esplanade were beginning to revive.
“Winter’s first green is gold,” I said to Hawk.
“Sure,” he said.
He ran as he did everything, as if he’d been born to do it, designed for the task by a clever and symmetrical god. He was breathing easily, and running effortlessly. The only sign of energy expended was the sweat that brightened his face and shaved head.
“You working on anything?” Hawk said.
“I was thinking about breakfast,” I said.
“I might need some support,” Hawk said.
“Yeah. Pay’s lousy.”
“How much?” I said.
“I’m getting nothing.”
“I’ll take half,” I said.
“You ain’t worth half,” Hawk said. “Besides I got the job and already put in a lot of time on it. Give you a third.”
“Cheap bastard,” I said.
“Take it or leave it,” Hawk said.
“Okay,” I said, “you got me over a barrel. I’m in for a third.”
Hawk smiled and with his arm at his side turned his hand palm up backhand. I slapped it lightly once.
“Housing project called Double Deuce,” Hawk said. “You know it?”
“Twenty-two Hobart Street,” I said.
We were running past the lagoon now, on the outer peninsula. There were ducks there, pleased with the spring, paddling vigorously, and regularly sticking their heads underwater, just for the hell of it.
“Ever been in Double Deuce?”
Hawk nodded and smiled. “Nobody goes in there. Cops don’t go in there, even black cops, except in pairs. Only people go in there are the ones that live there, which is mostly women and small children. And the gangs.”
“The gangs run it,” I said.
“For a little while longer,” Hawk said.
“Then who’s going to run it?”
We went over the footbridge from the lagoon and rejoined the main body of the Esplanade. There were several sea gulls up on the grass, trying to pass for ducks, and failing. It didn’t matter there was nobody feeding either of them at this hour.
“You and me?” I said.
“Which will require us, first, to clean out the gangs.”
“We got any help on this?”
“Sure,” Hawk said. “I got you, and you got me.”
“Perfect,” I said. “Why are we doing this?”
“Fourteen-year-old kid got killed, and her baby, drive-by shooting.”
“Gang?” I said.
“Probably. Church group in the neighborhood, women mostly, some kind of minister, couple of deacons. They got together, decided to stand up to the gangs. Neighborhood watch, public vigil, shit like that.”
“Bet that brought the Homeboys to their knees,” I said.
“There was another drive-by and one of the deacons got kneecapped.”
“Which probably cut back on the turnout for the next vigil,” I said.
“Sharply,” Hawk said. “And they talk to the Housing Police and the Boston Police and… ” Hawk shrugged. “So the minister he ask around and he come up with my name, and we talk, and he hire me at the aforementioned sum, which I’m generously sharing with you ‘cause I know you need the work.”
“What do they want done?”
“They want the murderer of the kid and her baby brought to, ah, justice. And they want the gangs out of the project.”
“You got a plan?” I said.
“Figure you and me go talk with the minister and the church folks, and then we work one out.”
The traffic was just starting to accumulate on Storrow Drive and the first of the young female joggers had appeared. Colorful tights stretched smoothly over tight backsides.
“The gangs don’t scare us?” I said.
“I a brother,” Hawk said.
“Double Deuce doesn’t scare you?” I said.
“No more than you,” Hawk said.
“Uh oh!” I said.