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I looked at my sister and thought, she knows what’s happening but won’t tell. I picked at my tooth that had been bothering me all night and day and spat in the direction of Jean. “Hey, are you trying to be funny?” Jean yelled. “Don’t do that again!.” Jean was the baby of the family. Everybody loved Jean. She got on my nerves most of the time, but still, she was my baby sister, so I had to deal with it. Little Miss Prissy could get anything she wanted from Mom. I was the only one who didn’t fall for her bullcrap. I turned my head in the opposite direction and spat again. I didn’t bother to answer her because I knew that I would curse her out. I’d had it with her secrets, let along her attitude of smugness.

Where was he? I looked up and down the street and saw nothing but emptiness. We were standing on the south side of the street on Mt. Vernon Ave. This was the busiest time of the day, mid-afternoon, in the neighborhood. Mt. Vernon was the street of Black business. Clothing stores like Mr. Lee’s that drew Black adults and teens from all over the city to buy the latest fashions. Fashions of clothing and shoes that only we wore with flash and class. Pimps and whores brought their street clothing there too. Politicians and Pastors brought their suits in purple, gold and blue. Church mothers found big fancy hats, gloves, and high heels. Teenage girls got their hot pants and maxi coats, with knee high boots. Mothers found Easter dresses and suits for their children and the yearly prance down the church aisle. The young brothers found their Super Fly big hat looks. Barber and beauty shops frying, sizzling, and cutting styles into hair. Pork chops, chicken wings and French fries frying, for a dollar seventy-five. their spicy smells filling the air. That smell was making me hungry. I missed lunch. 

Where was he? Jean and I had been waiting for over an hour for Smooth to show up, and as usual, he was late, or not coming at all. We met Smooth one day when we were shopping at Mr. Lee’s for our fourth of July outfit. I wanted some bell bottoms and Jean was looking for a pair of black hot pants with orange back pockets. She was under the impression that wearing the colors of East High School would make somebody think she went there, wrong. She was complaining about not finding them when Smooth came up to her and told her he could get some for her. I had seen him lurking around in the store, watching not only us, but other shoppers and thought he was an undercover cop, like they had at Lazarus department store downtown. I immediately went to my sister’s side, catching the tail end of what he was saying.

“I can get whatever you need Sister, you see something in here you like, write it down, I’ll get it for you at half the price.” Now Smooth was cute. Very cute. Tall, brown skin, dimples, nice smile and pretty brown eyes. Jean’s type of guy. But he was also a grown ass man, looked about twenty-five to me. Jean got to smiling in his face, showing all thirty-two whites at him, nodding her head up and down like a damn bobblehead, so of course I had to be the voice of reason and interject. “So how you gonna do that, mister? You a booster or what?”

Smooth’s voice was smooth sounding too. He sang the words like Marvin Gaye. “Call me what you like, my question is and remains, do you want to get in on my bargains or not?” Well, I’m not a fool. And that was all she wrote from that day forward. I like to save money like the next person. Jean and I had saved our weekly allowance of a dollar if we completed our chores, in a timely manner, for two months and did some extra chores that Mom paid us for, so we could get a new outfit to show off at Franklin Park during the fireworks. We could get two outfits from Smooth for the price of one. I looked at my watch and noticed that it was getting closer to the time when we would have to go home. We had to be home by dark or else be on punishment the next day, along with a cursing out and maybe a slap or two, depending on our mother’s mood if we arrived late again. 

“Jean, I know you know where he’s at, why don’t you tell me?” My voice tone was one of mild irritation, and Jean was quick to pick up on it. “I don’t know why you’re coming down on me. I didn’t mess up you did.” And with that comment, Jean tossed her ponytail in the air and turned her back on me. It took all of my self-control to not hit her in the back of her head with my fist. Instead, I turned her by her shoulders to face me and glared at her before speaking.

“I didn’t mess up anything. You’re the one who told Smooth that we would be here by two o’clock when you knew damn well, we couldn’t get here until three. He probably been here and left already.”

“You don’t scare me!” Jean yelled as she pulled away from my grip. “You knew today was the day and you should of made arrangements to get here early, now we may have to wait until next week to see him, I told you we should have left school at one, but no, you had to wait to see if you could convince Annie to come.” I gave up. I looked at Jean once more with a glare, and then turned my body in the direction that Smooth usually traveled when he came to give us the hot threads he had stolen that week. If we caught him early enough, we usually brought nice items for less than ten dollars. If we caught him late, we usually had to pay a high price for items that were cheaper, except now Smooth was running low on items and would up the price to keep his, I assume, fix money together. He looked like he might shoot up drugs.

I glanced at my watch. Darn, we had to leave. We only had twenty minutes to meet our mother’s deadline of 5:00 p.m. I started to walk towards home without looking back to see if Jean was following. Jean was singing to herself while clapping her hands. She immediately stopped singing and ran to catch up with me. Just then I heard something that sounded like a shout from the alley that we were about to pass. “Listen” I whispered.” We stopped and heard nothing and kept walking. “Listen” I said again. I had heard a voice in pain, and I knew it. This time we both heard it. Someone was pleading for his or her life.

“Please don’t, I swear I’ll get it.” Someone answered something in a voice so soft we couldn’t make out what was said. There was silence, and then we couldn’t hear any voices at all. Suddenly there was a shot. We looked at each other, and for the first time in a long time there was no glare in either of our eyes. This time we both exhibited fear. “Let’s get out of here.” Jean whispered. I nodded my head yes and pointed to the big green dumpster for trash just inside the alleyway, beside the building next to where we were standing. “Behind there” I whispered.

We ducked behind the dumpster a split second before somebody came rushing from the back of the alley. We held on to each other, something we hadn’t done in years. Now I don’t get scared easily. I’m the one that was always telling Jean to chill out. This time, I could have used somebody telling me to chill out. I was shaking like a friggin' windchime in a rainstorm. Jean was too and her long fingernails were digging into my arms. I started praying to God that the person wouldn’t see us. One of the few times I asked God for help. Whoever it was stopped at the end of the corner. If they looked back before they turned the corner, they might see us because we could clearly see their backs running away. Prayer worked. We watched as the person brushed off their clothes and then walked calmly out of the alley, around the corner, and out of our sight. We stayed huddled together for what seemed like hours but was only minutes. Finally, we looked at each other, nodded our heads in the affirmative, and slowly rose up from our cramped positions. We looked around to see if the person was really gone and were relieved to see that no one was in sight. 

“Quick, hurry, let’s get out of here.” I said as I began to walk quickly towards our home. 

“Wait for me!” Jean shouted as she ran to keep up with my brisk pace. We got about ten paces from the alley when Jean asked, “Shouldn’t we look to see who it is?” “What the hell for, let’s just get out of here Jean.” I looked at her like she was crazy. Then I got to thinking, I thought about reporting this to the police. I could call at the phone booth up the street. No, the police would be a bad idea since we might have to go down to the station. I knew Jean wouldn’t want to do that and neither did I. Going into the alley might also prove to be a bad idea, since we didn’t know what to expect when we entered the dark alleyway. 

“Well, what should we do?” This was from Jean who was watching me closely to see what my next move would be. If I started moving away from the alley, she was going to make sure that she was close on my heels. I rubbed my hand over my face, as if to erase my mind from any decisions I would have to make. And of course, I would have to make this decision, since Jean was only good for making decisions that concerned clothes, food, or boys. 

“Oh, I don’t know what to do” I finally said as I looked at my watch. “Oh crap! We’re gonna get it, we’re late!” “Oh, hell no, not again” Jean moaned. “On top of this crap we’re late! Mom’s gonna kill us.”

“I doubt that very much, since we do have a good excuse.” I still hadn’t decided what we should do yet.

“Yeah” Jean snarled. “We were waiting to buy hot clothes from a fence in a dark alley, which you told us to stay out of Mom. That’s why we’re late. That’s what we’ll tell Mom right. Then she’ll slap the shit out of us.”

I just looked at her. When she was worried about getting into trouble, she would ramble on and on, so there was no use in trying to calm her down. It was best to just change the topic. “We need to decide if we’re going to go look in that alley.” Jean was still talking about how Mom was going to whup-ass tonight.

She heard me though, and looked at me like I had two heads, forgetting that she was the one that asked me about going into the alley in the first place. “I know you don’t mean us going in there.” She said as she pointed her red painted nail in the direction of the alley. “You can play Wonder Woman if you want to, but I’m West, I’m out of this mess.” She then crossed her arms across her birdlike chest in a defiant manner and once again the glare had returned to her eyes. No longer was I her companion in danger. I was the older sister who wanted to be Miss Boss of everything. Well, this was one time Jean was not going to be bossed around. She’d heard about people putting their noses in business like this, and getting it cut off too. Not her. “I mean it Sara. I’m not going in that alley. Not now, not today, not ever!” looked at her, and then took a step towards the direction of the alley. She grabbed me and pulled me back. “Don’t do that Sara, you don’t know who’s in there.” I looked at her and asked, “Then what do you want to do?”

Jean thought about this question. What did she want to do? Well, she wanted to go home, she wanted a boyfriend, and she wanted a million dollars. But she didn’t want this mess or to make the decision and wished she had kept her big mouth shut about it