Priest had just finished his breakfast of buttery grits and eggs when the front door slammed. Three of Farad’s soldiers were posted outside, and relief flooded Priest as he heard familiar footsteps approaching. Baby Brother had stayed in East New York all night long, and even though the kid was eighteen now, Priest still worried about him, especially out there messing around with them treacherous Puerto Ricans.

“Zabu!” he called out, his voice heavy and full of bass. “You late, man. I told you I was gone take you to get some suitcases today, but if you wanna haul your gear to Cali in some black garbage bags, you can do that, you know.”

Despite his bark Priest’s eyes were full of pride as his youngest brother strolled into the kitchen. Just like his six brothers, Baby Brother was tall, with deep mahogany skin and amber eyes. He was muscled up and perfectly cut, and although they all worked out hard, the majestic physique was just part of their genetics.

Priest was the oldest and the most battle-scarred. He had raised the other boys after their mother died, and Baby Brother was his heart. His favorite. His salvation. Priest couldn’t help it. These days he served as an assistant pastor of a small storefront church, operated his own barbershop up on Rockaway Avenue, and gave Bible lessons at a youth center twice a week.

But he had a past that just couldn’t be wiped clean. He had pimped women, slung rock, slumped foes, organized gangs, and hustled the hell outta the game. But looking at Baby Brother killed all those past demons. His little brother was his pride and joy. Hard evidence that despite all the grimy capers Priest had pulled, all the prey he’d bitten, and all the upstate prison time he’d served, that somehow God had favored him and allowed him to redeem himself and do something right. Every time he looked at Baby Brother Priest saw the man that he himself should have been.

“What it do, ’Twan.” Baby Brother gave him some dap on his way to the refrigerator.

“You late, man. I told you we was leaving at nine.”

Baby Brother flashed him a grin and rubbed his stomach. “I’m hungry, tho’. Gotta stick something in my belly before we roll.”

Priest opened the microwave and took out one of four paper plates he’d covered in Saran Wrap. “Here.” He set it on the table. “Put ya face in this and hurry up. I gotta be back for services this afternoon.”

“Aiight. Yo, why’s it so quiet in here? Where is everybody?”

Priest shrugged. “You know the scene, man. When you do your work under the dark of night you gotta regroup when it’s light. The twins are both upstairs. Matter fact, Malik’s gone be here in a minute. Go upstairs and tell them two knuckleheads to get down here and eat.”

Ten minutes later Priest sat at the head of the table watching four of his young brothers grub. Malik had arrived dressed in his NYPD blues, and as they dug into the plates he’d prepared for them Priest couldn’t help but smile inside. It felt good to sit at the same table with his cats. Raheem had taken a trip for the long weekend, and Kadir was down in A.C. doing his thing, but with Baby Brother leaving for college in a couple of days, both of them would be showing up to see him off.

“Snatch ’em!” Malik hollered real loud.

“Guard ya plate!” Baby Brother threw his arms on the table, encircling his breakfast with wary eyes.

“Man, keep your hands off my damn food!” Farad complained, setting his fork down. “I ain’t playin that ‘snatch ’em’ shit today, dawg. You betta chill with that.”

Malik laughed and stuck the stolen slice of turkey bacon in his mouth. “You ain’t gotta play nothing but defense, man. You know the rules, muhfuckah! Lose ya heat, I snatch ya meat!”

Laughter rang out around the table and Farad reacted quickly.

“Snatch ’em!”

Finesse cursed as his twin snatched a crisp slice of bacon off his plate and started crunching.

“You getting slow, niggah,” Farad chuckled. “I coulda got me two pieces off you, yo.”

Priest laughed along with them, but his heart was heavy. He had prayed for a better life for his brothers. Nothing would make him happier than seeing Farad and Finesse out of the game and doing something legitimate with their skills. He’d dreamed of opening a chain of barbershops and installing one of his brothers at the helm of each operation, but Raheem and Malik both had good jobs with benefits, Kadir was hooked on card tables, and neither of the twins was interested in a nine-to-five. Priest stood up and refilled Baby Brother’s glass from a container of juice on the counter.

“So,” he said, looking around the table before nodding at his youngest brother. “Everybody ’bout ready to get rid of this lil son? Ain’t but two days left, then he’s out.”

Finesse shrugged. “I’d rather see him bounce for a minute than have him scrambling yay like them niggahs on the stoop. Damn, B-Brother. You gone be on some real West Coast shit when you get back. You sure you can’t go to school somewhere in New York? Maybe upstate?”

“I can go almost anywhere I wanna go,” Baby Brother said. “But Stanford is giving up the best scholarship package, man. Plus it’s a top school. I’d be crazy to let something like this slide by me.”

Malik nodded, wiping his mouth. “That’s what’s real, man. Graduate from Stanford with a degree in shit shoveling and you still considered a heavyweight in the corporate world. Fuck around with one of these city schools and you might end up working for Transit or coming on the force, or worse—following Ra down to Corrections and getting on over there.” He tossed his plate in the trash. “Cali is a good bet for you. Go for it. We got your back.”

“Yeah,” Farad said, standing up with his empty plate in his hand. He reached over and punched Baby Brother on his shoulder, then mushed his head like he was ten years old again. “Just make sure you put some damn gas in my car before you fly, though. Shit! I’m glad that niggah leaving. I’ma finally get a chance to push my own whip.”

Malik headed for the door. “Yo, Ant, what time we flying outta here on Monday?”

“Seven. I already told Ra to be here by four. That’ll put us at JFK way before five.”

“Cool.” Malik nodded. “I’ll get wit’chall in a few. They got me pulling a double shift so it’s gone be a long night.”

Fifteen minutes later two of the Davis brothers were ready to hit downtown Brooklyn. Priest let Baby Brother drive. He couldn’t bring himself to get behind the wheel of Farad’s drug-bought car. Negativity was all up in it, and he wanted no part of that.

As they pulled out of the driveway, Priest looked back at the four-bedroom home his mother had scraped to buy for them after their father’s murder. It shamed him to remember all the hoes and drugs and hot gats he’d brought in and out of these rooms back in the day when he was living like a dog and didn’t give a damn. His brothers Raheem and Malik shared a crib in Crown Heights, and Kadir was living down in A.C. These days it was the twins, Farad and Finesse, who were shaming their mother’s house, running a drug empire from her very bedroom, but there wasn’t much Priest could do or say about it. Hell, he’d set them up in the game. Taught them how to hustle on the success tip, and helped them earn their deadly reps.

But when Priest got knocked and sent upstate, things changed. He was locked down for almost two years before the Lord touched his soul and changed his heart. The prison chaplain had mentored him and helped him adjust his outlook on life, and by the time he was released that monstrous killer inside him was dead and Priest had been born. Ministry lived in his heart where menace and mischief had once run amok.

He sat back in his seat and glanced at Baby Brother. California was a long way away and he was gonna miss him, but it was a life or death thing that he go. Zabu was untouched by the poisons of their world. Unaffected by the lure of the streets that seemed to strangle Brooklyn boys like him by the tens of thousands.

Priest ran his hand down his sweaty face and let out a deep breath. He’s almost there, Mama, he thought. Like his other brothers, Priest had made a promise to his mother on her deathbed. They’d stood over her wasted body and held hands and vowed that no matter what happened to them, they’d stay together and make something good come outta their lives. They had told their mother not to worry. Said everything she needed to hear, easing her heart so she could die in peace. And at the very end they had promised to do the last and most important thing that she had asked.

They promised to take care of Baby Brother.


Later that night Eastern Parkway was packed. Everybody in Brooklyn knew that the biggest and hottest event on Labor Day weekend was the West Indian Day Parade. Cameron Davis, Baby Brother’s father, had been from Jamaica. He had come to New York as a teenager, and even though he’d been killed when Baby Brother was just a tyke, his brothers had painted a colorful picture of their father and made sure that shit was cemented in Baby Brother’s mind.

Cameron was a true hood legend. Even to this day, just the mention of his name could strike awe in an OG’s eyes. He’d been a slick gambler with a fearsome rep. They had lived in the projects, but Cameron kept his family in the finest condition and they didn’t want for a damn thing. Reva Davis was known for the African diamonds her husband draped her in. Her mink coats were legendary, and some said she had a different one for each day of the week. Others went even further than that. They said Cameron had stacked so much paper down in A.C. that the feds were hounding him for tax evasion because he was technically unemployed, but kept at least three late-model cars on the curb at all times.

Out of all the tales Baby Brother had heard about his father, one fact stayed consistent. He had loved his sons. He called his boys his lucky seven, and he would have died for them and their mother if need be.

But as hard as Cameron was, he still wasn’t bulletproof. He’d gotten popped behind a jealous niggah and a shady bet, and life for the Davis crew had taken a downhill turn from there.

Eastern Parkway was live when Baby Brother and Sari rolled up. After circling around side streets for almost an hour, Baby Brother found a parking spot on the far side of Lincoln Terrace Park. It was hot and sticky and festive as hell. The steel bands were pounding out that melodic island rhythm, and calypso music played loudly in the air, and dancers and revelers spilled down the middle of the street. There were endless floats and sound trucks inching down the middle of the large urban parkway, and crowds of people lined up along the service road, drinking brew, smoking sticky, and getting wild.

They stopped at a food stand and Baby Brother got Sari a taste of jerk chicken, a piece of coconut bread, and some mauby to drink. He pointed out flags from Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, and Grenada. They came up close near a band wildin’ out on steel drums and started dancing with the crowd. Baby Brother grabbed Sari’s shoulders and turned her around. She had on a bright pink clingy halter top that showed the imprint of her nipples, and a pair of pale pink shorts that set off her brown skin just right.

“Come on, girl.” He laughed, trying to make her smile. She was still on that “why-you-gotta-go” shit and he wanted her to chill and have a good time. “Wind that shit up!” he told her, eyeing her firm hips. “Do that thing you be doing when you stand over me on the bed.”

Sari laughed and turned around so he could see her round ass. She started winding her thick wicked like an island girl, working that heavy West Indian beat like she had a few drops of Jamaica in her blood.

“Yeah, that’s it, mami,” Baby Brother said, biting his lower lip as he watched her move. He stepped up behind her, letting that bouncy ass rub against his hardening dick. He never got tired of looking at her or digging in her either. She was brown and dimpled and sexy as hell. Phatty ass, bomb titties, tiny waistline with a tight stomach and a deep navel. He loved the hell outta her, and already he was thinking about getting back to New York for Christmas. He was gonna be doing plenty of pillow-fucking until then, though, ’cause he wasn’t planning to slum around on his honey.

“Sell that shit!” somebody yelled nearby. “Hold up—I think I already bought some a’ that stuff last night!”

Baby Brother took his eyes off Sari’s ass and grilled the cat that had spoken. He recognized him immediately. Borne Reynolds. Baby Brother kept his hands on Sari’s shoulders, but his lips had turned down in a hard frown.

“Yo, who the fuck you talkin’ to?” he barked, his voice heavy with bass. Unlike Farad and Finesse—dealers who lived and breathed their hustle from the trenches—Borne was one of them bitch rollers. A high-bank slanger who kept his hands clean and let his crew do all his dirty work. He was becoming a real headache on the streets and Baby Brother had heard his brothers discussing how to handle him. Borne ran a rival drug click on the border of East New York and Brownsville called the Brooklyn Bornes, and not only was Sari’s brother Tony and his click gunning for him, the Davis brothers were getting tired of him and his crew too.

Borne laughed as Baby Brother stared him down. “Oh, my bad. Sorry, my man. I didn’t see who you was for a minute. I ain’t tryna disrespect your little taco or nothing, homey, so don’t go running telling them bitch-ass brothers of yours nothing tryna start no war.”

“Man, fuck you,” Baby Brother said as Sari backed up into him, pushing against him as she walked backward, putting distance between him and Borne. Baby Brother never even associated with the happenings between Borne and his brothers, but he knew these streets were mean and it didn’t matter. He had to either stand firm for his, or be disrespected by fools like this. “Just watch what the fuck comes outta ya mouth when my lady is present, dig?”

Borne laughed again, backing away and into the crowd. “I’m feeling you, chief. You got that good Puerto Rican yummy on lock and don’t want nobody else to get none. I swear to God she look like this bitch I had on a leash this morning, though. Look just like her around the muzzle, yo!”

Pushing Sari aside, Baby Brother lunged into the crowd.

“No!” Sari screamed, clutching his shirt and pulling him back. She wrapped her arms around him from behind and lowered her weight, digging her feet in. Baby Brother stared at the spot where Borne had just mocked him. The crowd had swallowed Borne’s laughing face, but had not erased the sound of his voice from Baby Brother’s ears.

“That motherfucker need to chill….” he growled, his chest heaving. “If I see his ass out here again, it’s going down.”

Sari continued to hold him from behind, and when he turned around and put his arms around her in return, she looked up into his face and spoke. “You didn’t come this far in life by charging after every sucker who pops shit, Z. You know how it goes down out here. We’re targets, baby. My brother’s got crazy enemies in this game, both your brothers got crazy enemies in this game. There’s always gonna be somebody trying to press them by fuckin’ with us. Just let it go, Zabu. We came out to have a good time, right?”

He nodded, then grinned.

“Good,” Sari said, smiling in return. “So fuck Borne. He wasn’t in them sheets while you did your thing this morning, now was he?”

“Nah.” Baby Brother laughed and slapped Sari on the ass. “And he ain’t gonna be in them with us tonight neither.”

With the drama over, they moved onward through the crowd toward Franklin Avenue, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells while Crown Heights got its party on. Baby Brother was in the lead as they wormed inch by inch through the thick, boisterous revelers. He was pulling Sari along with her hand grasped firmly in his when he felt a jerk and his hand was empty.

“Sari!” He turned around and saw her craning her neck, looking through the crowd. She was holding her shirt up to her neck, and the strings of her halter were dangling by her arms.

“Motherfuckers!” she spat. “Somebody untied my strings!”

“Did you see who did it?”

She shook her head no.

Baby Brother scanned the crowd wildly. There were so many people doing so many different things that it was impossible to pinpoint the culprit, but after having those words with Borne he was about ready to wild out and start swinging on any damn body.

“C’mere,” he said, turning her around and taking her pink halter strings in his hands. She lifted her hair and he tied a double knot behind her neck, making sure it couldn’t be pulled free with just a tug.

“Walk in front of me,” he said, guiding her through the crowd ahead of him. They made it down past Nostrand Avenue without any further problems, and by the time they got to Franklin Avenue they were in a good mood again and enjoying the atmosphere.

They partied on Eastern Parkway until late night, then drove over to a club in Bed-Stuy. Sari had switched up from the Coronas she’d bought from a bodega near the parade, and was now drinking Patrón. Baby Brother wasn’t about to take a chance on fucking up Farad’s whip. He let his woman get her head buzzed while he drank Pepsi and stayed straight.

“I’ma get my dance on right now!” Sari said, rocking her hips like a brown-skinned Shakira. Niggahs in the club was clocking her, but they did that shit from a distance because Baby Brother was all up on it, making his status known. “’Cause I ain’t coming to the club no more until you get back home for Christmas.”

He laughed as she killed her pink shorts, making his pants brick up. “The way you like to shake that ass girl? Nah, baby. Don’t stay home waitin’ around on me. You like to dance, mami. Don’t matter if I’m gone. Come on out and dance.”

Sari stopped dancing and stood still in the middle of the crowd. Her eyes flashed.

“Now why you say some shit like that, Z?” she screamed on him, waving her hand in his face. “What’s really going on, huh? What the fuck you tryna tell me? You sending me out to the club because that’s where you gonna be yourself?”

“Man…” Baby Brother looked around, exasperated. Sari was tipsy and off the fuckin’ hook. Yeah, she could get jealous and hotheaded when she got buzzed, but he couldn’t believe his girl was playin’ herself like this. People dancing next to them were starting to stare, and a couple of niggahs in the crowd gave him the clown look.

“Baby why you trippin’ like this? You knew this day was coming! We planned for this shit! Studied together! Swore we would both make it up outta here! Next year you gonna be leaving for college too. Come out West when you graduate, baby. We can be together, girl. We gonna be together, Sari, damn!”

Sari was acting extra insecure and Baby Brother couldn’t understand that shit. He was a stand-up niggah. He loved her, and had already proven that shit with his actions. Besides, as fine as Sari was, there wasn’t no need for her to worry about him pushing up in no other freak’s gushy. He was pussy-bitten to the max. Doped up on Sari. Strung out on everything about her. They’d been tight for three years, and he saw forever in their future. But he saw the glazed look in Sari’s teary eyes. She wasn’t really a drinker, and chugging back that Patrón on top of all them Coronas musta had her head going hard.

“Chill,” he comforted her, hugging her close to his chest and letting her cling to him. “You hungry, baby? Let’s go get something to eat.”

Baby Brother drove toward a little chicken joint off Utica Avenue, but there was a crowd outside when they got there.

“Just take me home,” Sari said before he could park the car.

“What’s up? Oh, it’s too crowded? Nah, all them niggahs ain’t in line, baby. They just standing around tryna pick up some birds. It ain’t gonna take that long.” He opened his door and swung his long legs out, then stood up and leaned back in. “C’mon. Get out. I’m hungry.”

Sari crossed her arms and sat right there. “I said I wanna go home, Z. I don’t want no damn chicken. I just wanna go home.”

Baby Brother couldn’t call it. Sari could be real evil when she was drinking, but right now she was fuckin’ with his head.

“Look. You need to come down off that crazy shit. I ain’t going home hungry, so if you wanna sit up in here and wait, cool.”

He slammed the car door and strode angrily toward the crowd, trying to determine which of these niggahs was on line, and who was just fuckin’ loitering. He was moving through the bodies when he heard the noise.

“What the fuck?” he said, whirling around.

Sari was sitting in the driver’s seat, leaning on the horn. Blinged-out birds in the crowd stuck their fingers in their ears, then started cuttin’ up, talking shit.

“Get the fuck off that horn, bitch! Quit making all that fuckin’ noise!”

Baby Brother strode back over to the whip and snatched the door open. “Yo what the fuck is you doing, Sari?”

She kept on beeping.

“Sari! Sari! SARI!”

She came up off the horn and looked at him. “I told you to take me home, Z. Now take me the fuck home.”

Baby Brother waited until she slid over, then got back in the ride, ignoring the niggahs who was standing outside laughing at him. Maybe it was a good thing he was about to put some space between himself and Sari, he thought for a hot second. But then he squashed that shit. He knew Sari. The only reason his girl was wildin’ was because she loved him and hated to see him leave.

He drove down the mostly empty streets with his mind heavy. Every now and then he glanced over at Sari, but her face was set and she refused to even look at him. Fuck! It was already early Sunday morning, and in a little more than twenty-four hours he would be on a plane flying out West. He didn’t wanna leave Sari behind with shit hanging between them. What he really wanted to do was go back to her spot and dig up in her belly again. Maybe get him a little top, go down and rummage in her bottom. He’d even climb out the window and jump from the fire escape, if that’s the way she wanted it.

Fuck it.

He looked ahead. They drove into East New York from Blake Avenue and turned down Pennsylvania until they hit New Lots. He turned right on Van Siclen, then pulled off the street and parked in an empty space behind a white truck.

“Look, Sari. You ain’t really mad at me, girl. I know what’s really going on, baby. You just feelin’ some hurt behind me leaving, right?”

Sari surprised him, whirling in her seat to face him.

“Oh, you think it’s about you ’cause you going to college, right, Z? What the fuck am I, some strung-out little charity case? My life ain’t gone stop just because you bounce outta Brooklyn, Zabu. Don’t fuckin’ hype yourself like that. Just take me home.”

Baby Brother scratched his damn head. Here he was trying to be sensitive to her feelings and she flips the whole cake on him.

“I don’t know why you trippin’, Sari, but you need to trust me—”

“Kiss my ass!” Sari shrieked, tears in her eyes. “Take me home, Z. No, wait. Fuck you!” She flung the car door open and stomped out, leaving her Coach purse on the seat. “I don’t need your ass. I know my way.”

She started walking up the street, heading toward Schenk Avenue. Baby Brother drove alongside her, pouring his heart out.

“Get in the car, Sari. Come on, girl. I’ll take you home.”

She igged him.

“Sari, come on. For real. Quit this shit. I’m feeling you deep. You my heart.” Sari crossed the street and Baby Brother did a ride-through at the stop sign. He leaned across the seat and kept on begging from the window.

“I’ma miss you real bad too, ya know. This shit ain’t easy for me. You been everything to me, Sari. Girl I thought you knew that.”

She was melting. He could tell by the way she walked. He kept the conversation going. Telling her how planted she was in his heart. How much he felt for her. Telling her the truth.

There was no more stride on her now. She was walking kinda slow, dragging her feet a little bit.

“Come on, mami. Get back in the car. I’ll take you home, if that’s where you wanna go. I’ll do whatever you want, Sari. You mean just that much to me, girl.”

Baby Brother held his breath as she stopped, then turned to face him.

“This is not the end for us, is it, Z? I mean, you told me before that it was you and me forever.”

“And I meant it too. This ain’t the end, Sari. It’s only the beginning. That’s hard body truth, girl. Believe.”

He sighed as she stepped toward the car. With his foot holding the brake, Baby Brother reached over and opened the door for her, and just as she reached out to grab it, a shot rang out in the still morning air, destroying the calm that had just come down over Sari and shattering Baby Brother’s heart.

“Sari!” She collapsed straight to the ground in a heafl He jumped from the whip, ignoring it as it continued to roll forward until it collided into the back of a parked truck.

Baby Brother rushed to her side. She’d landed facedown, and he cried out when he turned her over and saw the blood slowly staining her shirt. Something clinged just a few yards away. Metal on metal. And then footsteps. Running.

He looked up and glimpsed a figure running up the block. Rage gripped him. He jumped to his feet, leaving Sari where she lay. Less than fifty yards away he saw it. Barely breaking stride, Baby Brother reached down and scooped up the pistol the shooter had tried to toss into a storm drain. He ran hard. Catching ufl He was a young black man in the ghetto who had never fired a weapon in his life. Now he fired three times. Quick. Bak! Bak! Bak!

He missed three times.

The shooter turned the corner and Baby Brother lost him.

Five seconds later he rounded the corner himself, heart pounding. Searching. He’s hiding in a fuckin’ doorway! Baby Brother’s street senses screamed. He headed deeper into the darkness, his eyes sweeping doorways as he passed. But halfway down the block, tires squealed and suddenly the street lit up behind him.

“Drop your weapon! Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air!”

Baby Brother stood frozen. Numb.

“Sari,” he whispered as an image of her bloody body flashed across his mind. His baby was down. Bleeding. He had to go help her.

He turned around and immediately squinted and tried to shield his eyes with his hand. There were three squad cars. Headlights on high. Blinding him.

“I said drop the fuckin’ weapon!”

Baby Brother knew they had the burners out. Trained on him and ready to body him at the slightest provocation. Suddenly the big picture clicked into focus. He was fucked. Not only was the shooter about to get away, there was a bloody body laying next to his car, just a block away. Baby Brother shuddered, then steeled himself for the worst. Sari was down, and his heart couldn’t conceive of it. Everything he’d ever worked for had just crumbled to pieces in the blink of an eye. Shit was crazy. It couldn’t be happening. The woman he loved had just gotten popped. But what was worse was the fact that Baby Brother was standing there covered in her blood. And holding the murder weapon.