Authors: Allison Van Diepen
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For the teachers and librarians who champion my books.
And for the readers who wanted more. This is for you.
slipped back into the alley and whispered into my cell, “It's on. Pup's approaching the car.”
Seconds ticked by. I watched Pup slide into his shiny black Mazda. Bass thumped inside. If the cops didn't pounce soon, they'd lose him. That better not happen. I'd spent weeks tracking his movements in preparation for this. His car was definitely full of Diamond Dust and who knows what else.
Sirens wailed, and three cop cars streaked in from all sides. Pup slammed on the gas, ramming one of them. He flung open his door and started to run, but they were on him in seconds.
Pup put up an impressive fight, but it only got him zapped by
a Taser. Finally they cuffed him and shoved him into the back of a cruiser. Off he went.
I smiled. Seeing Pup get arrested was a pleasure. He was a key player in Diamond Tony Walker's operation. Cruel and unusual was his thing. That's how he got his nameâshort for Sick Puppy.
Pulling my hood forward, I walked out of the alley and crossed the street, avoiding the security cameras around the all-night deli. Everybody knew those cameras didn't miss a thing. If Diamond Tony suspected a snitch, he'd get the tapes. He could have anything he wanted in this neighborhood.
I wasn't going to get sloppy. A sloppy informant is a dead informant.
Home was four blocks away. It was late and freezing cold, so everybody was staying inside. Even the drug fiends had found warm places to huddle.
When I got to my building, I saw two homeless guys slumped in between the front doors. They were probably too high to notice me, but I couldn't risk it.
I circled around back and scaled the fire escape. It was loose in several places and clanked against the building as I went up three floors. Climbing into my bedroom, I kicked off my shoes, threw my jacket over a chair, and stretched out on the bed. I rubbed my hands together to warm them up. My heart was beating fast, the
way it always did when I was creeping. Creeping and peeping, the kind of thing that could get me killed any day of the week.
I was four months out of juvie and a lot deeper into the game than before I went in. But I had to work for Diamond Tony if I was going to bring him down. I had a missionâand nothing was going to get in my way.
Pup's arrest tonight was just the beginning.
stood at the bus stop the next morning, the wind biting my ears. Trey was standing beside me, running his mouth. I'd known him forever. Everybody had. He knew every bus route and where it went and would go on about it nonstop.
November was the ugliest time of year in the Jane and Finch projects. The trees were like skeletons, the grass dead and brown. It was a concrete jungle with huge high-rises that loom over you like Big Brother. I hated how bare it all looked. Reminded me of the cell blocks of juvie. I wished winter would come and cover the place with snow.
Trey carried a paper bagâhis daily bacon, egg, and cheese
sandwich made a big splotch of grease at the bottom. Me, I never ate before first period. Instead I sipped my morning drink: coffee mixed with hot chocolate. Today I ordered three-quarters coffee. I hadn't slept much. I was too wired from last night. Detective Prescott had called soon after I got home to tell me how it all went down. Pup's car had been loaded with drugs and weapons. I was glad, but when I finally fell asleep, my dreams were full of guns, shouting, and running. I was always having dreams like that.
Trey's whine interrupted my thoughts. “The forty-seven again! It's only supposed to show up every twelve minutes. It's been eight minutes. The driver must be smoking weed.”
“More like crack,” I said. “Weed would slow him down.”
He didn't get the joke. “Our bus better be on time. I've got a test.”
“Chill, T. It'll be here.”
“I need to ace this one, so I don't want to start late. How are your grades?”
“Okay.” I had a B average so far, but I was determined to crank it up to the next level. Too bad juvie had left me way behind. I should be a senior, but I was taking tenth- and eleventh-grade classes.
“You've only been absent twice. You're better than you used to be. Remember the time you missed ten days in one month?”
I couldn't help but smile. “Actually, I don't remember, T.”
Peeps at school was always calling Trey Ass-Burger because he had autism, the type that made you really smart.
Before he could say more, Biggie and Smalls came up to us. Also known as BJ and Lex, they'd been best friends practically since birth, mostly because they'd both grown up in the 15 high-rise. They were a weird-looking pair since Biggie was stocky and over six feet tall, and Smalls was so short and scrawny, people often mistook him for a twelve-year-old. Smalls was the one with the mouth, though. I'd known these guys for years, and before I went to juvie, we used to hang out. Not anymore. I'd lost too much time to be wasting it with guys who did nothing but smoke up and play video games. They were never gonna get out of the projects, and if I spent too much time with them, I wouldn't either.
“You hear Pup got arrested last night?” Smalls's voice went all high like a girl. “Our man Diamond Tony's gonna be pissed!”
I knew a few smart people, and Smalls wasn't one of them. There were a lot of guys like him in Jane and Finch. He was against everythingâauthority, common sense, probably even good nutrition. He thought the news was all propaganda made up by The Man. Truth was, he was as much of a follower as anyone else. He actually believed the real heroes were people like Diamond Tony, who weren't scared of the cops and who didn't follow society's rules or the Ten Commandments. Smalls was a damned fool.
While we waited for the bus, the guys shared stories about Pup and all the sick shit he'd done. Pup was Tony's goon, and torture was his MO. He didn't torture to extract information, though. He did it because he enjoyed it.
The bus finally came, and we had to push our way on. Biggie and I stood on the bottom step and squeezed up against a fat guy so the driver could close the door. The bus ride took forever. Each time it stopped, I had to get off to let people exit, then fight to get back on. A short, wrinkled lady dressed in black elbowed past me. Same thing every day with that one. It was like being old gave her the right to do whatever she wanted.
Finally the bus dropped us off in front of the school. Smalls and I went to our first class, history.
history. Smalls's only excuse was that he was lazy. I didn't sit with him because I didn't want the teacher to think I was lazy too. Smalls thought I sat at the other end of the classroom to be next to this hot chick Tiara.
When class started, Mr. Monk said, “Clear your desks.”
I could have kicked myself. I'd been so focused on the Pup mission that I'd forgotten all about the test.
Shit. I was going to have to do better.
*Â Â *Â Â *
Two classes later, I was in my happy place. The synthesizer pumped a raw beat.
I rapped inside my head:
Hup, hup, brought down the pup
Sick bitch had a free ride
He'll pay on the inside.
The rest of the class was across the room playing instruments, but Mr. Filimino let me do my thing. He knew that violins and trumpets weren't for me, so he was cool with me making beats and writing rhymes.
The music room was a big space that used to be the industrial arts workshop. Mr. Filimino had moved the music classes here because the acoustics were better than in any classroom. I switched the beat, speeding it up.
The king's going down
I'm'a rip off his crown
Smash it under my feet
You'll wanna know the deets
The hood'll finally be free
Like how it used to be
No more terror monarchy.
Making music was the only time I had the flow. I could focus so intensely that hours felt like minutes. I'd stay in the zone until every beat was in place, until every word was perfection.
In juvie, I'd missed making music more than anything. I wasn't allowed to have my keyboard or turntables because they could be
used as weapons. As if I'd ruin my expensive equipment just to whack somebody over the head with it. So all I had was a notebook full of rhymes. I'd repeat the songs over and over so I wouldn't forget the tunes. Finally I got approval to have an old handheld tape recorder.
My plan was to go to Ryerson University. Lots of music producers went there. After that, me and my friend from juvie, White Chris, were going to start our own record label, Juvenile Records. Chris knew how to drop a rhyme and, like me, had a head for business. Ryerson didn't just want good audition tapesâthey wanted good grades and recommendation letters, too. Luckily, I could count on Mr. Filimino to give me a rec when the time came. He was the one teacher who didn't seem to hold my record against me.
The bell rang for lunch period. Most of the class left, but a few stayed behind to watch me play. I hardly knew them, since they were two years younger than me. Eventually it was just me and Ricky, a skinny kid with too many zits and not enough deodorant.
“Can I try out some lyrics?” he asked.
“Go for it.”
He gave a nervous cough as I slowed down the beat. Then he started. “I don't need a pill/To make this beat ill/Sit back and hold still/My lyrics gonna thrill.”
“Sick,” I said. Pretty basic beginner lyrics, but he had rhythm.
“I want to learn all this,” he said, touching the dials.
“Filimino will let you use it at lunchtime. If he trusts you.”
“Yeah?” I could see the question in his eyes.
Filimino trusts you?
“He knows I'd never steal shit this old. I got better stuff at home.”
“If you want to stay, go ask him.” Filimino was at the other end of the room stacking chairs.
He hesitated. “Wait, can you show me how to get that beat again?”
As I showed him, I had the feeling I was being watched. I glanced up. Some girls stood in the doorway.
One of them was Jessica Thomas. She was in economics with meâone of my three eleventh-grade classes. Some people said Jessica looked like Rihanna, but I thought she was way prettier. They say the only reason she wasn't a model was that she was too short, maybe five two or three. She had flawless skin, full glossy lips, and big brown eyes that could make you forget your name. Yeah, thoughts of Jessica Thomas kept me company while I was in juvie.
I turned back to Ricky. “You good to go?”
I grabbed my books and headed for the door. The girls stepped out of my way, but Jessica said, “Hey, Darren.”
She had a shy look in her eyes. I wasn't sure if I bought it. This
was Jessica Thomas, after all. Sometimes guys called her Jessica
because of the effect her sweet curves could have on your imagination. But she was known as a good girl. She had this cheerful, fresh thing about her that was different from most girls.
“Hi,” I said, and kept on walking. I heard them squeal behind me.
The fact was, a lot of girls were noticing me lately. I wasn't the gangly freshman who'd left for juvie more than two years agoâI'd worked out daily while I was locked up. And now that I was on Diamond Tony's payroll, I could finally afford to wear the hottest brands and real bling around my neck.