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ONE – Purple Fingernails
This wasn’t the first time Jess had snuck a peek at the gun, but it was the first time she aimed it at someone. She looked across the small, cramped room to her sister’s bed on the other side. The sheets lay in a heap, undisturbed. Like most nights, Nova hadn’t come home.
The small house Jess and Nova had spent their lives in was a small, two bedroom, one bathroom bungalow. A short, central hallway connected the front door and kitchen/living area with the bathroom and the two bedrooms, their doors facing each other further down the hallway, and ending at the back door. It had been at least five years since the place had been cleaned, and all the windows had bars, except the small one above the sink in the kitchen.
Years ago, despite security concerns, Lucia had insisted the bars be removed so she could have an unobstructed view while washing dishes. “I want to see my neighbors,” she had said, even though the window afforded only a view of another run-down house. Jess and Nova had never understood the appeal.
Lucia didn’t wash dishes anymore. That was one of Jess’s jobs now. She sat up and swung her legs off the side of her bed. Stale air washed over her. The bare walls held no posters of favorite rock and roll bands or actors. No stuffed animals or books, except for the odd library borrow from school. Instead, paint cracked and peeled off the wall in chunks. A small desk where Jess did her homework was wedged against the wall at the foot of her bed. A torn blanket, riddled with holes, served as a curtain in front of the barred window. The morning’s sunshine began its slow, striped creep across the room.
Jess tip-toed to the side of Nova’s worn, dirty mattress next to the wall, careful not to wake her sleeping mother across the hall. The floor tended to creak under Jess’s feet but it was impossible to predict. At the top end of Nova’s mattress was a hole big enough for a small hand. She knew its location from feigning sleep as she watched Nova return from her night missions.
Jess reached in, the hole stretching to fit her hand, and grabbed the textured grip of the gun. She cradled its cool weight as she maneuvered it out of the small hole. It was a tight fit. The smooth, brushed metal and her purple fingernail polish competed for the early morning light. The gun felt heavier than she remembered, but it also felt good. Jess raised the gun with outstretched arms. She squinted, one eye aiming at a small bedside mirror, her sleek fourteen-year-old Latina reflection aiming back.
“Bang. You’re dead, bitch.” A smile crossed her lips, but before she could enjoy the moment, Jess heard the front door to the house open and slam closed. Footsteps in the hallway approached fast. Nova was home.
“Shit!” Jess scrambled to put the gun back into the mattress, snagging it on the small, frayed opening. It wouldn’t go back in. She pulled her hand out and hid the gun behind her back just as Nova entered the bedroom.
Two years older than Jess, Nova belonged to the Dynamite Queens, a local girl gang and the better half of the Dynamite Kings. She stood glaring at Jess. Veins in her neck stood out beside a tattoo of a stick of dynamite with three diamonds above it. “What are you doing by my bed?”
“Nothing.” Jess tried to maintain eye contact.
“Bullshit. What’s behind your back?” Nova knew something was up. Nova always knew.
Jess revealed the gun in her right hand. Busted. She tried to prepare herself for what was coming next, but Nova didn’t do predictable, with the exception of an inevitable explosion of curses.
“What are you, fucking crazy? Give me that!” Nova crossed the bedroom and grabbed the gun from Jess, anger flush on her face.
“Sorry,” Jess said, doing her best to dodge the wrath of her sister. “I was just trying it out.”
Nova slapped Jess hard across the face with her free hand. “It’s loaded, you dumb bitch! You could’ve shot yourself!”
The hot sting of Nova’s slap spread across Jess’s face. “Don’t freak! I’m not an idiot! The safety’s on.”
“What if it wasn’t?” Nova popped out the magazine and pulled back the barrel, making sure the chamber was clear. “Have you seen the damage this can do?”
“No, but I want to.”
“Believe me. You don’t. Now get the fuck away from my bed!” Nova tucked the gun into the back of her pants.
“You’re never here! This should be my room.”
“I said move!”
Jess stomped to her side of the bedroom, stopping to face her sister. The shape of Nova’s hand stood out on Jess’s cheek, red and angry.
The sight of its cherry silhouette softened Nova’s demeanor, if only for a moment. She pushed past Jess and headed down the hallway to the living room.
Jess sensed Nova’s resolve weakening and followed, tugging on her shoulder. “I want in, Nova.”
“No you don’t, so stop fuckin’ asking me.”
“Come on. You promised.”
“I didn’t promise shit!” Nova pushed Jess away from her.
“Shut up!” Jess’s mother Lucia, twenty-nine going on forty-nine, staggered out of the bathroom, half dressed and arms peppered with heroin injection scars. Her pale skin hung off her atrophied muscles in soft folds. Her pallid face and sunken eyes suppressed her beauty of five years earlier. She stumbled toward Nova. Her underwear hung loosely off her hips, defying gravity somehow. “I need a hit. You holding?”
Nova looked at Jess with disapproval. “You let her sleep in the bathroom?”
“She wasn’t there last night,” Jess said. “But you wouldn’t know that, because you weren’t here either.”
“Ugh. Get dressed, Mama. You look like shit.” Nova took Lucia by the shoulders, turned her around and pushed her toward her bedroom.
“Don’t you talk to me like that,” Lucia said, glaring back at Nova.
“Or what, Mama? You gonna ground me?”
“Don’t test me.” Lucia changed direction and shuffled back toward the bathroom.
Nova threw open the front door.
“You promised!” Jess said, following close on Nova’s heels.
“We’ve been through this.” Nova blocked Jess’s path. “Not gonna happen. End of fuckin’ story.” Nova crossed the brown patch of lawn in front of their house and toward the street.
Any other time, Jess would have let it go, but this morning was different. Perhaps it was Nova’s slap, still warm and heavy on her cheek, that snapped Jess into action. She refused to give up and pursued Nova across the lawn.
What am I reading? What am I writing?
TWO – The Drive-by, Part 1
Vendetta preferred the black 1979 Cadillac Coupe de Ville with tinted windows over anything else, especially for a drive-by. Brick and Crook wanted to take the Escalade, but it was a dead give-away as well as a cliché. There was something about the low rumbling idle, the growl, of the V8 engine that Vendetta loved.
In her head she was eight again. Vendetta pictured her father, Bear, a mountain of a man, behind the wheel, waiting for her curbside on Sunday morning.
“Where should we go today?” Bear would ask. “Hollywood? The coast?”
Vendetta saw herself raising her arms and yelling “The pier!”
Vendetta and her father went to Santa Monica Pier a lot. On the way there, she got to sit in the front seat without a seat belt, the warm summer breeze on her skin. They’d spend the day at Pacific Park, playing games, riding the roller coaster and eating junk food. Vendetta’s favorite above all was riding the Pacific Wheel, round and round, always in a red gondola, never yellow.
“Dad, when are you coming home?” Vendetta would ask, snuggled under Bear’s arm, watching the sun set as the Ferris wheel traced circles in the sky.
“Soon, babygirl,” he would say.
Not soon enough. Bear was shot and killed running from police after botching his first bank robbery.
What a fucking dumb ass. Vendetta snapped back to her sixteen-year-old reality. Selling smack is where it’s at.
The Cadillac rolled forward along West 54th, then turned right onto 4th, keeping pace with Nova walking two blocks ahead. Every house had a Mexican fan palm out front, towering high above the rooftops. They looked like twisted, unkind versions of Truffula trees and seemed to go on forever.
Brick was the wheel man for all of their drive-bys. Two-hundred eighty pounds and stacked like a linebacker, he often passed for 21. He used to be teased about his weight in high school and still remembered the chanting. Fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t fit through the fuckin’ door.
Now a member of the Dynamite Kings, no one dared to say anything about Brick’s size, even within the crew. The Dynamite Kings demanded respect and when they didn’t get it, they took it by force. The last kid to make fun of Brick, a little outspoken runt who didn’t know when to shut his mouth, received a beat down so severe he came close to dying in hospital. Brick wouldn’t have taken it that far by choice, but with the rest of the Kings involved, escalation was inevitable.
Crook sat in the back seat, tiny by comparison. A scrawny five-foot-two, he overcompensated for lack of height with misguided bravado. Crook was the best at everything he did, a legend in his own mind, but not so much this morning. His throat still burned and his breath reeked of vomit from early-morning terror. His stomach clenched in knots. Drive-bys always made him nervous.
For Crook, guns were his security blanket, and today he would be using a MAC-10, modified to be fully automatic. Banned in 1994, MAC-10s were easy to get if you knew the right people, and the Dynamite Kings knew everyone. They ruled the drug trade of this South Los Angeles suburb. Their turf sat surrounded by Crips to the north, east and south, Maryjanes to the west and spanned from Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue to Western Avenue and West 48th Street. It was a large area for a gang of their size.
“Gimme the gat.” Crook held a fully loaded magazine in his fist. He pumped his thumb with excited intensity, pressing the top of the spring loaded hollow point bullets up and down like the jump button on an xBox controller.
“Not yet, bitch.” Vendetta kept her eyes locked on Nova walking ahead.
“Who you callin’ bitch, BITCH?”
“I am, you little shit. Now shut da fuck up.”
Crook fumed in the back seat. He imagined placing the barrel of the MAC-10 behind Vendetta’s head and coating the windshield with her brains. He smiled at the thought.
“She’s gonna hear us,” Brick said. “We shoulda took the Escalade.” Brick gripped the steering wheel of the Cadillac and tried to maintain a safe distance on the narrow street. A tattoo of a stick of dynamite with three red drops stood out between his thumb and forefinger.
“Fuck your Escalade. Just don’t lose the bitch,” Vendetta said.
“Hey, she’s going inside,” Brick said.
From down the street, the three assailants could see that the run-down house was equipped with bars on the windows and had a short, concrete retaining wall guarding the front where a flower bed used to be, long ago. A wobbly fence, broken in spots and in need of a coat of paint, lined the property on three sides. Nova crossed the brown, dead lawn and opened the front door, disappearing inside.
“Now what?” said Crook.
“Pull over,” said Vendetta. “Now we wait.”
Brick slowed the Cadillac, bringing it to a stop a block away from Nova’s house. The slow, hungry idle of the Cadillac echoed through the neighborhood.
“Fuck that shit.” Crook worked the spring-loaded bullets in the MAC-10 magazine with his thumb. “Let’s go in and waste the bitch.”
“No.” Vendetta turned and looked back at Crook. “We’re gonna stick to the fuckin’ plan.”
“This is some bullshit, man,” Brick said.
“Want to be next? Shut da fuck up.” Vendetta and Nova were both senior members of the Dynamite Queens, both with the same level of status. Vendetta led the Queens because Nova had never challenged her. Vendetta intended to make that permanent.
“The crew looks up to her.” Brick was down with killing when it was justified, but this didn’t feel right to him.
“Shut your fat face, bitch. She ain’t the leader of the Queens. I am and don’t you forget it.”
Brick kept his eyes on Nova’s house. “She ain’t got no violations.”
“So? She’s a fucking tease,” Vendetta said. “I don’t like the way Rooster looks at her.”
“That’s cause they used to fuck, Rooster an’ her,” Crook said.
“What’d you just say?” Vendetta glared at Crook in the back. “I aught to waste you right now.”
Crook laughed. He’d hooked Vendetta, and began reeling her in. He nudged Brick’s shoulder. “She don’t know.”
“Everyone knows,” Brick said. “How could you not know?”
“Shut up!” Vendetta said, her angry eyes back on Nova’s house.
“You gonna kill all of Rooster’s ex-girlfriends now?”
Vendetta leaned in and squared off with Brick. “Just her, motherfucker.”
“Shame to waste a smokin’ hot bitch like that,” Crook said. “Rooster’s gonna be pissed. He loves the smokin’ hot bitches.”
“Shut da fuck up. That’s why we ain’t telling him shit, remember?”
“Look.” Brick spotted Nova leaving the house.
All three pulled bandannas over their faces. “Show time. Let’s roll,” Vendetta said.
Crook reached to the front with an open hand. “The gat, pass it back.”
Vendetta pulled the MAC-10 from under her seat and handed it to him. “You ever shot one of those things before?”
“Who do you think you’re talkin’ to, bitch?” Crook slapped the magazine into the bottom of the MAC-10. It looked and sounded impressive but the truth was Crook had never held a MAC-10 before today.
Vendetta looked Crook over. “Don’t miss.”
“I never do.” Crook’s eyes sparkled with excitement as he pulled the charging bolt. Brick slipped the Cadillac into gear and into a slow creep forward down the street.
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THREE – The Drive-by, Part 2
Nova made it halfway down the front walk before she turned to face Jess’s pleading. “You’re such a fuckin’ pain in the ass,” Nova said. “And you’re smart. Way smarter than me. Why do you want to be a gangbanger?”
“I’m tired of being the maid!” Angry tears welled in Jess’s eyes.
With each heated word between them, the Cadillac rolled closer.
“It’s dangerous. You could die. You want that?” Nova said.
“I don’t care anymore. Anything’s better than this.” It was rare for Jess to raise her voice, but the flood gates opened. There would be no stopping her now.
The Cadillac rolled closer, less than one hundred feet away. The tinted passenger window slid down and revealed the barrel of the MAC-10, emerging like the head of a snake. In the shadow of the cab, Crook’s eyes squinted over his bandanna, taking aim on Nova.
“I support you,” Jess said. “I clean up after you, after Mama. It’s all bullshit. I want the life you have. I want to have… fun.” The low, rumbling of the Cadillac’s engine distracted Jess from her words. She looked past Nova toward the source of noise.
Nova picked up on Jess’s loss of concentration and looked back towards the street. All the tell-tale signs of a drive-by were there: the slow moving Cadillac, the open window, the gun barrel.
Nova switched into battle mode. “GUN!”
For Jess, everything moved in slow motion. Nova spun toward the house, grabbing Jess and throwing her back over the concrete retaining wall.
Bullets erupted from inside the Cadillac. The initial kickback of the MAC-10 caught Crook off guard and he sprayed a short burst of bullets toward the sky until he regained control of the weapon. His second volley of bullets tore up the front walk, the dead lawn and punched crumbling holes in the retaining wall. Crook followed Nova’s movement, trying to maintain his erratic aim. The kickback and vibration of the MAC-10 was more difficult to control than he thought it would be.
Nova covered Jess with her body, breathing hard behind the concrete wall. Nova pulled out her Browning 9mm from the back of her pants and stuck her hand up over the top of the wall, firing back blindly.
As fast as the shooting started, it was over. With Crook’s MAC-10 magazine spent, Brick floored the gas on the Cadillac and peeled out down the street.
Nova jumped over the cracked concrete wall that had saved her and Jess’s lives. In hot pursuit, she ran after the Cadillac, firing back.
Nova’s aim proved to be much better than Crook’s. The back window of the Cadillac exploded into shards. Nova continued to fire back.
One bullet grazed Crook’s neck, leaving a bloody mark. “The fucking bitch shot me!”
“You dumb-ass!” Crook had blown the entire mission and Vendetta was livid. If she had had a gun Crook would have been missing his head. “I thought you never miss!”
Crook gritted his teeth. “Fuck you, bitch.” He grabbed a second magazine, reloaded the MAC-10 and fired back through the shattered rear window.
Nova ducked behind a palm trunk, narrowly missed by Crook’s second volley of gunfire. Wild bullets ripped up the pavement around her, again, never quite hitting their target.
Nova stepped out from behind the palm trunk and fired back several rounds at the fleeing Cadillac.
The bullets struck the rooftop and ricocheted inside. The noise and bullet holes appearing around Crook’s head startled him. He lost his grip on the MAC-10 and watched it slide off the trunk of the Cadillac, cartwheeling on the road behind.
“Stop! I dropped the gat,” Crook said.
“Fuck that shit.” Vendetta nodded at Brick. “Drive. The motherfucker can’t shoot worth shit anyway.”
Brick didn’t show any signs of stopping as he hurtled toward the intersection at West 52nd Street.
“Are you fuckin’ crazy?” said Vendetta, her eyes going wide. “I didn’t say kill us.”
Brick focused all his attention on the road just past the intersection, like he had the ability to warp past, and through, the cross traffic. “We’re cool,” he said. “It’s a four-way.”
Twenty-five feet from the intersection, Brick saw a Toyota SUV begin a left turn from West 52nd onto 4th, heading in the same direction. As the Cadillac blew through the stop sign, Brick swerved left and clipped the left rear bumper of the Toyota.
Nova holstered her gun in the front of her pants and watched the Cadillac straighten out and speed down 4th. By the time the driver of the Toyota realized what had happened, the Cadillac was long gone.
Nova trotted up to the MAC-10 lying in the street. Several neighborhood kids took an interest in the gun as well, squatting to get a good look at the automatic weapon up close.
“Stay back,” Nova said.
The kids recognized Nova’s neck tattoo and backed away, respecting her authority and giving her space. Nova picked up the MAC-10, still warm from gunfire. The barrel had bent when it struck the pavement. She removed the magazine and unchambered the unfired round, catching the bullet in her hand without batting an eye. It was clear to all the kids watching her that she knew her way around a gun.
The warm 9mm hollow point bullet lay in her left palm, the MAC-10 held tight in her right.
“Any of you know who this gun belongs to?”
The kids stared back at Nova with blank faces.
“I just need a name.” Nova scanned the half dozen kids, memorizing their faces as best she could. “Anyone?”
No answer. One boy shook his head and received a whack from his friend beside him.
Nova singled out the two boys and crouched to their height. She held the hollow point bullet up close for them to see. “You know what this’ll do to your head?” The two boys stared at the bullet between Nova’s thumb and index finger. “Let’s just say your pretty faces would be gone.”
The other kids watched Nova, wide-eyed and too terrified to move.
“You sure you little fucks don’t know anything?” Again, the kids returned blank fearful faces. Satisfied, Nova waved the kids off. “Get out of here.”
The kids turned tail and ran.
“Nobody saw nothin’,” Nova said, loud enough for their escaping ears to hear. “Or you’ll meet this bullet again.”
Nova stood and walked back to the house to find Jess still cowering behind the concrete wall, covered with dirt and concrete dust. Police sirens wailed in the distance.
Lucia had propped herself in the doorway, still half dressed. Her t-shirt hung off her body like a flag in a windless sky. “What in the hell is going on out here? Did I hear shooting?”
“Go back inside, Mama. This don’t concern you.” Nova helped Jess to her feet. “You okay?”
Jess nodded. “I think so.” Nova looked Jess over carefully, trying to spot any visible injuries.
The tattoo on Nova’s neck, diamonds and dynamite, pulsed with her jack-hammering heart. “You wanted fun?” She pointed down the street. “You’re gonna get that. I told you, gang life ain’t for you,” Nova said.
For a fleeting moment, Jess agreed.
You’ve been reading Tied, A Street Gang Novel
Two sisters: They each want a way out. They each have a plan…
Rejected by her older sister’s gang, Jess joins a rival gang and fights for her life on the streets of South Los Angeles.
If you like strong female characters, gang culture, and gritty street life, then you’ll love the story of teen-aged sisters Jess and Nova. Both are headstrong, and after one explosive argument, Jess takes her future into her own hands and joins a rival gang. This decision leads her down a path of irreparable consequences.
Set in the rough neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, violence erupts as two gangs, two sisters, fight head to head. But who will survive the night?
You’ve read this far. Perhaps you’re willing to go a bit further?
“Tied: A Street Gang Novel” is available on Kobo, Apple, Amazon, Google, and Barnes & Noble.
Want a little more of the story? Please continue on to read chapters 4 through 7.