Candice, Junior and Tuck speechlessly watched the scene unfold. Uncle Rock turned around and began walking back toward them. Tuck gripped his gun tightly; he couldn't be sure that Barton hadn't been hired to take him out also. Uncle Rock walked right past Tucker, coughing fiercely as blood dribbled from his lips.
“Uncle Rock!” Candice cried out, moving toward him.
“Stay there!” Uncle Rock screamed, halting her steps.
“Yo, this is some straight-outta-movie shit. All I wanna do is take my fuckin' dough and get the fuck outta here. I can't have my moms burying two sons!” Junior exclaimed.
“Wait!” Uncle Rock yelled at him.
Then he said, “Candy, what you read in my last will and testament was true. I am dying. I have cancer. I did love someone at one time, and that love bore a son. His name is Joseph Carson, but his mother called him Junior.” Uncle Rock leaned over to cough up more blood.
“What, nigga?” Junior barked, lifting his gun. A spark of anger ignited inside him. Staring at Rock, Junior remembered him as the old dude hanging with Easy, when Easy gave Junior a job.
“You fuckin' punk-ass bitch nigga! You let me go years without a father? Suffering at the hands of Broady's fucked-up pops ... watching my moms get her ass beat up. You watched me go fuckin' hungry and have to steal from the store, and you ain't do shit.” Junior choked on his words. He was a man, and he wasn't going to let no tears fall, especially at no soap opera shit like this.
Uncle Rock spit up more blood.
“I should kill your fuckin' ass right here!” Junior growled.
Candice raised her gun. “I don't think so... . He saved your fuckin' life today,” Candice grumbled.
“Candy ... let him do it. Let him do it before they come for me,” Uncle Rock rasped out.
“What are you talkin' about?” Candice asked.
“I'm dying, anyway... . Shoot me now. Don't let them have the satisfaction,” Uncle Rock begged.
“No!” Candice screamed.
“All of you have to go. Get out of here... . Run. It's never over when you have information about the government,” Uncle Rock wheezed.
“You can go with me. I have the money... fromâ from... Daddy,” Candice pleaded. She couldn't stand losing her uncle. Not now.
“Candy, you especially need to go. They will have a bounty on your head. You need to run,” Uncle Rock said.
Before any of them could blink, Uncle Rock looked at Candy and let his gun hand drop to his leg. He fired a single shot. She opened her mouth to scream, but it happened too fast.
“Noooo!” Candice hollered.
Uncle Rock's body dropped to the ground, but his eyes were still open. Blood leaked from his mouth, but he was still trying to talk. Candice ran to him. She knew she only had ten seconds or less. Uncle Rock had taught her about this very moment. Candice bent down at his side, but she could see the blood soaking through his pant leg.
“Why?” Candice screamed, trying to apply pressure on Uncle Rock's wound.
“Because ... IâI ... love you,” Uncle Rock managed. Then his head lulled to the side. His eyes were open and vacant.
“What the fuck!” Tuck huffed, bending down next to Candice. She looked at him pitifully. Tears ran down her face in buckets.
“He shot himself in the femoral artery,” Candice cried. Tuck grabbed her around the shoulders.
“There's nothing you can do for him, Candy. He did it all for you,” Tuck comforted. Junior walked over and stood over the man who had just confessed to being his father. He wasn't going to shed a tear.
“Yo, Tuck... who the fuck are you?” Junior asked.
Tuck stood up, face-to-face with Junior.
“I am Avon Tucker, a DEA agent who got set up by his own partner,” Tuck confessed.
Candice looked at him strangely. She was too overwhelmed with a mixture of emotions to be mad. They had both operated under false pretenses.
“So you were tryin'a take me down?” Junior asked.
“That was my assignment, but it was all a fuckin' joke. You've been working for the government, any-way,” Tuck told him.
A loud chopping sound could be heard overhead. The helicopters were hovering just above them.
“They're coming. Barton warned us. We need to get out of here,” Tuck said urgently.
“What about Uncle Rock's body?” Candice asked sadly.
“They will make this one big crime scene. Once they do their investigation, they will contact his next of kin,” Tuck told her.
“Which is you,” Candice commented to Junior. The sound of the helicopters was getting closer, and sirens could be heard in the distance. They all started to disperse like rats in an alley. Candice went left, Junior went straight ahead, and Tuck remained back. Tuck was the only one who didn't have a ride. He watched Candice walk toward her car and disappear from the darkened street. Junior quickly got into his truck and peeled off.
Within five minutes Tuck was surrounded. He lifted his hands in the air in surrender.
“I am Avon Tucker, DEA agent,” he screamed out. One of the black Impala doors swung open.
“Are you still a DEA agent, Avon Tucker?” Dana Carlisle called out.
Candice pressed her foot lead heavy on the gas pedal and drove away from the crime scene like her life depended on it. Pulling up near her apartment building, Candice wiped the tears off her cheek. She had to focus on getting the hell out of the area, like Uncle Rock had instructed.
You're a big girl ... . It's time to grow up. It's just you against them. C'mon, Candy, you can do this. Make Uncle Rock proud
. Candice gave herself a stern pep talk as she exhaled and put the gear into park. She rushed out of the car, whirling her head around in every direction, making sure she wasn't being watched. With her heart racing, Candice took the steps leading to her apartment two at a time. This was one of those times she had to heed Uncle Rock's lessons about being stealthy, accurate, focused and fast when on a mission.
Candice reached the floor where her apartment was located in the old high-rise building. The hallway was empty. Candice's hands were shaking badly; she could barely get the key into the lock. Finally the lock clicked and she pushed her way inside the familiar doorway. Before she could get her bearings, her jaw went slack with shock.
“These bastards!” Candice growled as she moved slowly. She took in the nightmarish scene and instinctively fumbled in her bag until she located her two favorite weapons, a .40-caliber Glock 22 and a .357 SIG Sauer. Her fingers instinctively chose the Glock.
Shaking her head from left to right, trying to make sense of what she was seeing, Candice slowly moved through the now-unfamiliar space filled with the debris of her ruined personal effects. Candice kicked a path clear and roved the rooms with her protection gripped tightly. Everything in her apartment had been turned upside down. The living-room furniture was no more. The end tables and coffee table lay splintered in pieces; her sofa lay on its back and had been sliced like a pig in a slaughterhouse. The kitchen had been trashed as well. The cabinets hung open, their contents swiped from the shelves onto the floor and counters. Even the drawers had been pulled from their slots, with their contents dumped out unceremoniously onto the laminate floor.
A creaking sound caused Candice to jump. Her nostrils flared as she eyed the hallway leading to her bedroom and placed a two-handed, thumb-over-thumb grip on her weapon. Someone must still be here. The way she held her weapon now, and moved her body, made her think of Uncle Rock.
she screamed inside her head. Her vision began to blur as the tears burned behind her eyes. Biting down into her jaw, Candice moved slowly toward the back of her apartment, where her bedroom was located. In there was a safe, which contained her life savings. Candice swallowed hard and forced her legs forward. Her survival instincts began to take over. She had to get that money, and get the hell out of there fast.
Moving with her back up against the walls, in case someone was still lurking about, Candice finally made it to the bedroom doorway. With her gun leading the way, she dipped her head inside quickly and backed out, just as fast. She said a quick, silent prayer and rushed through the entranceway. As she entered the room, glass crunched under her feet. Candice stopped breathing for a minute. She bent down and picked up the shattered photo frame, which contained a portrait of her slain family. Her heart jerked in her chest as she looked at the jagged lines from the broken glass running across her father's face. How ironic that his face was sliced in half by the glass, much like the double life he had led as a drug-dealing government mule. Quickly coming back to the reality of her situation, Candice whirled around in the middle of the floor, with her weapon pointed out in front of her. It appeared that whoever had been in her apartment was long gone.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Candy tried to unravel the mystery behind her trashed apartment.
What the fuck were they looking for?
Candice wondered as she trod carefully around her once-immaculately-clean bedroom. The box spring lay exposed and her mattress was on the floor, sliced and diced, with the cotton spilling out as if someone had been digging in the middle of it. Her closet had been emptied of its contents, with her clothes, shoes and handbags tossed into a pile on the floor. Her desk had been turned over, and her laptop screen smashed. The cork message board that was usually above her desk, which had contained pictures of Junior and his crew, was also broken into three pieces. All of the pictures had been removed. Who would want to steal those pictures?
Maybe Uncle Rock was right. Maybe the government was after her because of the skills she possessed and the information she was privy to as a result of her association with Rock. Or maybe Junior was coming after her to avenge the death of his brother, Broady. The conspiracy theories abounded in Candice's mind, but she didn't have time to give them any real thought. Her first priority was locating the safe in the bottom of her closet. Frantically she tossed aside the pile of clothes and shoes that covered the closet floor. She blew out a cleansing breath; then she noticed that, strangely enough, the medium-sized gray fireproof safe was still there, seemingly untouched. Candice was no dummy. The safe wasn't still there because the intruders wanted her to have money to live. The whole thing reeked of a setup; whoever had wrecked her apartment wanted to make a statement, but they also wanted her to get away.
Candice entered the safe combination, but her hands were unsteady and she had to spin the wheel a couple of times before it opened. Once the lock clicked, Candice pulled the small metal door back. She let out a long sigh of relief when she noticed that the money her father had left herâwhat she hadn't spent keeping up with Junior and his hustling crewâwas still there. All of the ammunition was still there as well. Money, guns and bulletsâthat was all she had left in the world. It was also all she had conditioned herself to believe she needed. The safe would be too cumbersome and heavy to try to carry out of the apartment, so she quickly emptied the contents into a duffel bag.
Fuck love. Fuck having a family
. Candice told herself she was about to step out into the world alone. Before she left, Candice carefully placed the picture of her family on top of the stacks of money in the bag, picked up her loaded weapon, and raced for the front door. With a quick, last look around, Candice knew she would never again set eyes on this place. She was about to embark on a whole new life, and she was painfully aware that she was no longer the hunter, but the hunted.
After almost being killed by Candy and watching Rock take his life, Junior fled the scene and headed straight to his mother's house. He had rushed up the front steps of his mother's house, unable to get a handle on his feelings. How could his mother have so willfully deceived him about who the fuck his father was? He entered the brownstone furious like a gust of wind around a tornado.
“Ma!” Junior called out as he stalked through the hallway leading to his mother's kitchen. “Ma! Where you at?” Junior belted out, his voice a quaking baritone. No response. He finally found his mother sitting at the kitchen table, with her head down, clutching a wadded-up napkin.
“Ma, didn't you hear me calling you?” Junior huffed, his tone going higher with irritation. “We gotta talk! I need to ask you some questions right now, and I want the truth!” he boomed, slamming his fist on the table. He was ready to lay into his mother about who his father was, but his plan was quickly derailed.
Slowly raising her head, Betty Carson looked up at her eldest son. Fear was evident on her face. Junior halted in his tracks at the sight of his mother; he rushed to her side.
“Ma, what happened to you?” he barked incredulously. His mother sobbed even harder and quickly lowered her head. “Ma ...” Junior's tone had softened; sympathy was tracing his words.
His legs felt weak and something deep in the center of his chest ached. He placed his hand under his mother's chin and lifted her face so he could get a better look. Junior let out an animalistic moan as he examined every inch of her paper bagâcolored skin. Her left eye was swollen shut with dark purple and deep red rings forming around the outside of it. Her nose was red and swollen, with crusted blood rimming the inside of her nostrils; dark welts were rising on her cheeks.
“What happened to you?” Junior asked again, his heart thumping wildly at the idea of someone harming his mother.
“What did you do? What did you do to your brother? What did you do to me?” His mother suddenly came alive, her voice a high-pitched screech. The bitterness in her tone caused Junior to take a few steps backward.
“What are you talking about?” Junior replied, pleading ignorance.
“They told me what you did! They came here and did this to me! They told me, you were the one who killed Broady, and now they are gonna kill you and me!” Betty belted out, unable to control her wails now.
Junior swallowed and bit down so hard into his cheek that he drew his own blood. The acrid taste seemingly fueled his homicidal feelings. He felt like wrecking shit around him. The heat of his anger rose from his toes and climbed up into his soul.
“Who was it?” he managed to croak out as his chest rose and fell rapidly. He balled his fists in an attempt to keep his rage at bay.
“He said his name was Phil and that you killed his baby brother, so he killed yours. Said you tortured that boy, a twelve-year-old boy, and then killed him!” Betty sobbed, accusing her son through her one good eye. “Oh, Junior... I saw that story on the news!” she wailed some more. “Are you out there killing people, Junior?” she asked in a low whisper, her eyes pleading for an explanation.
Junior stood mutely at her side.
“Oh, God!” his mother called on the Heavenly Father for understanding and comfort.
Junior suddenly felt too weak to stand. He flopped down onto one of the kitchen chairs. His mother took his disregard for her question as an admission of guilt, but there was no way that he would tell his mother that Broady was actually to blame for most of what had happened. Junior's body felt hot, and his healing gunshot wound began to throb from the adrenaline pulsing through his body. His head pounded with a migraine-caliber headache at the base of his skull. He squeezed his eyes shut and let the silence in the room settle around himâthe calm before the storm.
Phil, the leader of the uptown crew of drug dealers, had crossed the line when he touched Junior's mother. Junior and Phil had called a truce years ago. It was agreed that Junior would run the Brooklyn street empire, and Phil would remain Uptown. They were supposed to be peers in the game, on the same level, but Phil had reached down too far. Junior would never have thought to touch any member of Phil's family. Junior had even told Phil that it was Junior's hotheaded brother, Broady, who had harmed Phil's little brother, Carmelo. Junior thought Phil understood, but now he knew different.
Junior's eyes were ablaze, and his nostrils were flared. He felt the strong desire to grab his mother into his arms and comfort her with a hug. He hadn't hugged his mother since he was a small child. Betty was never real big on affection. It was a wall that her children simply acknowledged as insurmountable. Though she never told them with words or actions that she loved them, they knew she did in her own way. But perhaps this urge to comfort his mother was merely an excuse to receive it in return. Obviously, sorting out the truth with his mother about his real father was a conversation Junior would have to have another day and time. He couldn't wait to get back to the streets. He had tried his best to prevent a war from happening, but Phil and his crew had pushed Junior to his limit.
“I've told you all that I know!” Avon Tucker screamed, clenching his fists so tight his knuckles paled. He looked around at all of the accusatory faces and bit down into his jaw. This was some bullshit. It had been two weeks since the shootings that had claimed his partner's life, and he was still being interrogated as if he were the bad guy.
The DEA, NYPD and, of course, the FBI had converged on the scene, each wanna-be-in-charge acronym vying for jurisdiction over the scene. Avon had raised his hands like a suspect, his street clothes, obligatory diamond Jesus piece and long chain not helping him make the case that he was actually an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
Immediately following the shooting, Avon was treated like a victim. At first, he was given time to “think things over.” He was taken under the wing of the Employee Assistance Program. This was called the “get your story together” time among law enforcement officersâa week's worth of meetings with EAP shrinks, and strict isolation from the media and the U.S. Attorney's Office investigators. In fact, this was his first “on the record” interview regarding the incident, and everyone wanted a piece of it.