It was one of those days when nothing had gone right. Not your garden-variety nothing, like when you're dressed to kill, looking good and know it, and the sky opens up in a mini-monsoon, your umbrella's at home and you aren't. Or the first call of the day on your shift is a drunk who barfs all over the backseat of your freshly washed and vacuumed squad car. That's chump change. I'm talking about the kind of rotten luck that, by the end of the day, had me giving serious consideration to popping in on Madam Selena to stock up on as many talismans, charms and chicken feet as I could afford.
This September morning had started out just fine -- crisp, clear and goose-bump chilly when I'd left for home from the mountains of North Carolina. I'd dressed appropriately -- jeans, a longsleeved denim shirt with a windbreaker for good measure. Then I hit the Piedmont, and Mother Nature -- feeling bitchy, I guess, after a downright wimpy June through August -- opened her blast furnace and let loose the meanest, earliest Indian summer the East Coast had suffered through in years. So several hundred miles and twenty-plus degrees after my departure from Sunrise, the jacket was long gone, my shirt and jeans felt like a wet suit, and I smelled like Eau de Mountain Goat. And by the time I reached my neighborhood service station in Northwest D.C., I looked and felt as if I'd been char-broiled. I was soaking wet, ass-dragging tired and not, I repeat, not in the mood to be bothered by any known oxygen-breathing organism that stood upright on two legs. But considering the way things had gone, I knew as soon as I saw the derelict cross the street -- against the light, I might add -- that he was going to make a contribution to what was already one hell of a lousy day. The way my luck was running, he'd probably want to sit down beside me.
Granted, there was room enough for him, and I had no claim other than squatter's rights to the bench outside the Mobil station where I was waiting for my tire to be patched, but all anyone had to do was look at me to know that it would be prudent to find a seat elsewhere. This guy, however, was clearly oblivious to the emanations I was giving off -- in fact, oblivious to everything except the effort involved in putting one foot in front of the other without falling on his face.
I'd watched his approach from the corner of my eye. Wear a badge and you learn to see as much with your peripheral vision as you do looking straight ahead. You never lose that. He would have been hard to miss either way. He was white -- I think -- with the jiggly-legged gait of someone who's made alcohol or drugs a lifelong companion, his shoulder-length locks matted and snarled like Medusa on a bad hair day, his shirt and jeans streaked with dirt and who knows what else. I was familiar with most of the street people in the area, but I'd never seen this one before.
He fingered the return-coin slot of the pay phone on the corner before making his way to the Coke machine beside the rest room doors to try his luck there. Then, focusing with difficulty, he spotted me and I could swear a neon light saying JACKPOT! flared in his eyes. He'd found a mark.
I cussed under my breath as he wobbled unsteadily toward me. Stopping at the unoccupied end of the bench, he shoved his hands into his pockets and squinted at me bleary-eyed, swaying in the breeze. I waited, assuming the point of the exercise would be to hit on me for spare change. What he said instead was, "Damn, baby, you sure look bad!"
He was right, but that's beside the point. At least I had legitimate reasons for my appearance: first, the usual nine-hour drive from Sunrise that had turned into eleven and a half hours of torture, thanks to the demise of my recently repaired air conditioner a quarter of the way home and, second, a flat just over the Virginia state fine. There is no way to stay squeaky clean while you change a tire on the shoulder of an interstate highway in ninety-two-degree heat. Besides, I'd had to unpack the trunk to get to the damned spare and then cram all of it back in. That took longer than it had taken to change the flat, and by the time I'd finished, the solar index had burned the toasted almond complexion I'd been born with to something closer to black walnut.
On top of all that, what with no air conditioning, I'd had to drive the remaining three hundred miles with my window open, the rushing wind drying my eyeballs, blasting silt up my nose and bugs through my hair. So I knew what a mess I was, and the last thing I needed was the unsolicited opinion of a street hustler who looked as if he hadn't seen water since he'd left his mother's womb. I took a deep breath, ready to blast him out of his filth-encrusted tennis shoes.
He interrupted me mid-huff. "Yeah, I know, the pot calling the kettle ... uh ... never mind. Close your mouth and act like you're digging for loose change. I've gotta talk to you." He lowered himself gingerly, as if expecting the bench to rise up and meet his backside halfway.
I stared at him, taking in his features. "Jesus, Weems, is that you?" Narcotics, obviously undercover. Way undercover.
"Sorry, sweetcakes. Thought you recognized me. You been out of town or something? I've been hanging around this block for a week looking for you. And will you please stop staring at me?" He began picking his nose, and I turned my back on him in a hurry. Really, there was such a thing as taking role playing too seriously. "How've ya been doing?" he asked. "How's the knee?"
The foregoing is excerpted from Killing Kin by Chassie West. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022