Latasha sat at the kitchen table dutifully doing her homework. She never bothered with that much before, but for the first time ever she felt good about herself and her life. She felt like she had a future, and that was an utterly new feeling.
“Homework,” Latasha said.
“Why?” He was not asking what she was thinking. He was asking why she bothered. She had heard that bad attitude all her life.
“Detective Lisa says there is no reason I can’t go to community college and study law enforcement. I am going to be a police woman.” She was stating what she considered the facts, though she had to get the grades to get through high school first. She felt the tension, spun and caught Leon’s wrist. He had his hand open and he fully intended to whack her in the back of the head, hard.
He gave her his meanest stare, but she was not going to let him hit her again. He finally yanked his hand free with a word. “Stupid bitch. The police are the main thing that keeps us down. Why are you going to join the enemy?”
Latasha stood and made her little fists. She did not need to hear this. “They are not the enemy,” she yelled. “The only thing that keeps you down is you.”
He had some choice words. She returned as good as she got. Even a year ago, he would have slapped her silly. Now all he could do was growl at her and stomp out the back door.
“He’s right, you know,” she said.
“He is not right.” Latasha plopped on her chair. “I want to do something positive and important with my life. What’s wrong with that? I mean, God didn’t put us here to sit around and do nothing, did he?”
“Baby.” Mama sat beside her. “I know the Lord has given you the most special gift I have ever seen, you and your…sisters?” Mama was asking about the word and Latasha nodded. Sisters was right, and in a way that went way beyond anything as petty as blood or skin color. “Well, maybe if you can knock some sense into the heads of some of the men around here I am sure it will all be worth it.” She patted Latasha’s hand and stood to clap her hands at the little ones who were spacing out in front of the television. “You two, to bed.”
“No, not yet.” That was expected, but they went upstairs with Mama. They were tired from playing whack a zombie all day and hitting each other over the head with sticks.
James came down when they went up. He was the youngest of Latasha’s older brothers at nineteen. He finished high school last year and had some reasonably good grades. Mama cheered louder than anyone at his graduation. He was her first who made it all the way. He looked at Latasha. He always encouraged her to do the work, and in that respect, he was like the black sheep of the family. Latasha finally put down her pencil and looked up.
“I didn’t want to interrupt,” he said.
“Well, you did.” The sarcasm just popped out like the old days, and she was immediately sorry. She really looked at him and gave all her attention.
“I thought you might be interested. I talked to Sergeant Whitaker today.” Latasha raised her eyebrows. She was getting to know some of the police but she did not recall a Sergeant Whitaker. “Marine recruiter. He says my grades may be good enough. I’m thinking of joining the marines.”
Latasha dropped her pencil and rushed around the table to give him a big hug. He said, “ouch,” and she lightened up. Then he added, “Mama doesn’t know,” and Latasha pretended to zip her mouth closed. Then she had to speak.
“I’m so proud of you.”
“Me, too. Proud of you, I mean.” He pointed to her open schoolbook.
“I’ll make you proud,” she said. He just smiled for her and went out.
Latasha was just about finished with her work when Darren sat down in the chair opposite her. She tried to concentrate, but at last threw her pencil to the paper and frowned. “Every country heard from,” she said and looked up. Darren had on his serious face, but it was also his manipulative face and Latasha was never quite sure which one she was seeing.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what you did to those people,” he started right in. “About you joining the police and all that. I’ve decided that maybe I need to do something with my life, too. I’m gonna get a job and work hard to make something of myself.” Latasha waited for the but. “The problem is I owe this money and well, I don’t know how to say this, I need your help.”
“I don’t have any money.”
“No, not like that. I have the money.” He patted his jacket pocket. “I just want to pay it back so I can start with a clean slate. You see? The thing is I owe it to one of the real bad guys and I am late in paying him back. I’m afraid.”
Latasha lifted her head and shook it a little. “No. That is not what I am supposed to do.”
“But you could go with me.”
Latasha waved her hand at him. “Regular people problems have to be solved by regular people. I’m not supposed to interfere with things that way.”
“But we are family.” Darren paused and laughed as if the thought just occurred to him. “No, I wasn’t saying you should come and beat them up or something.” He laughed again. “No, I was just thinking if my little sister was along, I would have a witness and they might not beat me up.”
“No way,” Darren was firm. “If I brought Leon and James that would be like starting a world war. But you, they are not going to beat up my little sister and a girl besides or make you watch while they beat me up so you can identify them later. I don’t think so. Really, listen. All I want to do is pay them back and then make a new start with my life. Really.”
He sounded sincere, but Darren was good at that.
“Saturday morning if nothing else is going on. Just think about it. Now I’ll go away so you can finish your homework.” He did, and she would have to think about it.
Lisa and Ashish pulled up the alley as quietly as they could and turned off the engine well before they arrived. “Still no word from Heinrich?” Ashish had to ask.
“No.” Lisa was still adjusting to the idea that she had a member of the mysterious council in town looking over her shoulder. Maybe he was not exactly breathing down her neck. In fact, he could be a great help to them. But it felt like he was watching her every move. “And no word from Emily either.”
Lisa shook her head. “She just needs to get her homework done and pass her tests. Libby is working with her some and that is for the best. They are too young and too old to be more deeply involved.”
Ashish nodded. He was not going to argue, though it honestly looked like it might be impossible to keep them from being involved. “Millsaps.” Ashish spoke into the radio.
“Ready.” The answer was brief and Ashish looked at Lisa. She did not move immediately, like she had something on her mind, but she moved at last and it was quick and forceful steps.
Guns were drawn, and when they were in position, Ashish said “Now” into the radio while Lisa kicked in the warehouse door. Police officers came in from the back door and the side windows were covered as well, but the place was empty. There was an old forklift, some stacks of wooden pallets and a broken toilet cover on a pile of rubbish in the corner, but no sign of zombies or even that it had ever been used for such. Lisa sniffed the air but said nothing.
Ashish holstered his gun with the words, “No surprise.” It was the address where those rare and controlled substances had been delivered, but they honestly did not expect it to be the operation center.
The police did a thorough job of it and even checked the dust pile beneath an abandoned push broom, but there was nothing. Ashish thought to speak again. “There are too many abandoned buildings in this city, and the lab isn’t necessarily in this city.” Lisa was still sniffing and Ashish finally had to ask, “What?”
“Smells like magic,” she said.