Soooo as per the updated release date post, I’m pushing the release date for SPITFIRE SUCKERPUNCH.
It will now be out on MONDAY SEPT 28TH.
But to hold you over until then, here’s CHAPTER ONE, for your reading pleasure 🙂
Officer Tate Grayson stepped into the back room of the beauty supplies shop, pocketing his sunglasses as his eyes adjusted to the dark.
“I took her I.D.,” the shop owner, an older woman with a sharp face, said, following behind him. “She was trying to steal and I caught her before she got out the door.” She held up a brassy gold tube of lipstick and he took it, trying to suppress the sigh he felt crossing his lips. It was a Friday afternoon. School had just let out. It was prime time for shoplifters. Normally, the owners didn’t bother calling the police in Harlem for shoplifters, but this lady was an exception to the rule. She’d called many times for various reasons, shoplifters being only one of them. Loiterers, homeless people hanging around too close, occasionally a call when she thought people were dealing or doing drugs outside of her shop. He didn’t doubt the crimes were occurring; it just didn’t seem to matter much. Murders were important. Organized crime was important. Getting hard-core criminals off the street was important. Shoplifters were somewhat lower on the totem pole. But it was his job to care, so he did.
“Okay, ma’am. I’ll go talk to her,” he said, taking the tube of lipstick from her.
“And her I.D,” the woman said, holding up a plastic card.
“Thank you,” Tate said, taking the card in kind. “You can go back to the front. I’ll take care of it.” The lady opened and closed her mouth a few times, but she stopped at the door and didn’t go any further. He nodded and turned into the small cement back office, lit by bright fluorescent lighting and stuffed to the brim with boxes and a big desk with an ancient computer on it. A black girl sat against the wall, her legs crossed and her dangling foot jiggling in front of her a mile a minute. She glanced up, her brown eyes going hard and cold when she saw him. He saw a youthful fear behind them, as well. She couldn’t be older than sixteen, he realized. She had a pretty heart-shaped baby face with long, straight black hair flowing over her shoulders. Her nails were long and fake and painted a garish hot pink. She wasn’t so different from any other girl in Harlem, but there was something about her that caught his eye.
He recognized her, he realized. He’d seen her with the other kids around the neighborhood. He didn’t know her name, of course, or anything about her, but he’d seen her around. She rolled her eyes and leaned back, moving as far away from him as possible in the small room. He set the tube of lipstick upright on the corner of the desk and glanced at the I.D. that the shop owner had given him.
“Alright, Miss…Spears,” he said, reading the name. “How about you tell me what’s going on?”
“What did that lady say?” she asked. He noticed immediately her voice was slightly husky, which surprised him. He didn’t know what he’d expected, maybe something more child-like to match her face.
“She said you stole this lipstick,” he said, settling his hands on his belt.
“I didn’t steal anything,” she said, dropping her eyes to the lipstick on the desk.
“Well, no, you didn’t, because she caught you first,” he said. “But you tried, didn’t you?” She shrugged in response, running her hand through her hair like she didn’t give a shit about anything. “What color is it?” he asked.
“What?” she said, darting her eyes up to his face.
“The lipstick. What color is it?” He could tell his question caught her off guard, which was his intention. She narrowed her eyes at him, like she was trying to figure out why he wanted to know. Then a small smile crossed her lips and she rolled her eyes.
“Nights in Red Satin,” she said after a minute, her voice low like she was trying to keep from laughing. He cleared his throat in an attempt to keep himself from smiling as well. It was stupid; they both knew it. It was also a Friday, his favorite day of the week. On Friday, the streets were alive and his shift went by at lightning speed. Luckily for her, he was in a good mood.
“How much is it?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging. She curled up her hand and stared down at her nails. “Fifteen bucks.”
“Fifteen?” Tate asked, incredulous at the price. Fifteen dollars for a small tube of lipstick? He had younger sisters, and he was sure some of them probably would pay such an outrageous sum for makeup but he still didn’t understand it. Their lips and faces looked just as good without all the makeup. Sometimes he wondered if he would ever understand women. He had a feeling he never would.
“That’s why…” she trailed off, perhaps realizing she was about to say something she would regret. “That’s why someone might consider dropping a lipstick in their bag,” she continued, choosing her words more carefully. “But I didn’t.”
“Uh huh,” Tate said, not believing her for a minute. He snapped up the lipstick and popped the top. A pointed crimson tip stared back up at him and he cocked his head. “That’s really red,” he said, stating the obvious.
“I like red,” she said, staring at him again.
“How old are you?” he asked, running his eyes over her face. She was a pretty girl, he realized. She was slightly chubby and the extra weight only made her younger and cuter looking. She could have been one of his foster sisters, he thought. She looked like them, that was for sure. They were always trying to be tough, but not quite pulling it off. It was the eyes. Her eyes were too young and innocent. She wasn’t hard, despite the neighborhood where she’d grown up or the fact that they were meeting under such dubious circumstances. “Aren’t you a little young for red lipstick?”
“No,” she said, sitting up straighter and uncrossing her legs. “I like bright colors. They make me happy.”
“You like to draw attention to yourself?” he asked without thinking.
“Sure. Why not?” She shrugged again, looking him in the eye for the first time. “What’s wrong with drawing attention to yourself?”
“Depends on the attention, I guess.” His radio suddenly crackled to life, breaking the moment between them. His fingers found the knob on top and he turned down the volume, annoyed by the loud, distracting noise. “I’d say you have the wrong kind of attention on you right now,” he said after it was quiet again.
“I can’t believe she called the cops,” the girl said, shaking her head. “I can’t believe you showed up, either. Isn’t someone getting murdered somewhere or something? Do you really have time to waste on me?” Tate stared down at her, another smile quirking the edges of his mouth. She wasn’t altogether wrong. He leaned his hip against the desk and softened his stance, bringing himself down closer to her level.
“Luckily for you, I do have time today to waste,” he said, tossing the lipstick up in the air and catching it in his palm.
“Aren’t you kind of young to be a cop?” she asked, tugging on her ridiculously big hoop earring.
“No,” he said, simply. He was twenty-two and had been on the force for two years, not exactly wet behind the ears, but not an old hat either. He didn’t know if he thought of himself as particularly young, though, despite his age. He’d seen too much and dealt with too much. A lifetime in foster care would harden up even the softest of personalities. Either that, or no one would survive. The New York foster care system was Darwinian at its core. Adapt or die might as well have been the motto.
But the girl in front of him didn’t know anything about that. She might’ve had too much free time or not enough supervision, but she was well cared for. Her clothes were clean and, although not overly expensive, they were stylish and new. She was innocent, despite an apparent propensity to shoplift. He clicked his tongue, thinking about what he was going to do about Miss Spears. Maybe he was feeling generous that day. Maybe he just didn’t want the paperwork. Either way, he was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
“Maybe I should call your parents,” he said, raising an eyebrow and watching her reaction. She blinked rapidly a few times and he caught a quick flash of fear behind her eyes. She didn’t want him to call her parents, that was for sure. Good. Hopefully that meant they were strict and were attempting to put her on the straight and narrow. Maybe this was just a temporary setback for her. Time would tell, he supposed.
“Why don’t you just let me off with a warning?” she asked, her tone different, more cautious. “I’ve never gotten in trouble before.”
“Then admit it,” he said, tossing the lipstick in the air again. “No bullshit,” he said. She shifted her hips in the seat and shook her head.
“If I say that it somehow ended up in my bag without me paying for it, then I get arrested, right?” she said, flicking her eyes from him to the door and back again.
“Not necessarily,” he said, shrugging like he it didn’t matter to him one way or the other.
“So you’re not going to arrest me?” she asked, looking up at him with big hang-dog eyes. He didn’t respond, just tossed the lipstick up again and caught it swiftly. She sighed and bit her lip, then leaned back in her chair, like she was trying to decide whether or not she was going to come clean. He didn’t know why it mattered. He didn’t need a confession, after all. “I’ve seen you around the neighborhood,” she said after a minute, surprising him. “You usually have a partner with you.”
“My partner’s taking care of a murder right now,” he said, sarcastically. In reality, his partner Santos was down the block getting a slice of pizza while he took care of the shoplifting call. He would probably be there, soon actually, ready to move on. She snorted out a small laugh, and he sensed her walls and distrust breaking down more and more the longer he talked to her. “C’mon,” he nudged. “I just want to know why. Why would a nice girl like you want to steal this overpriced red lipstick?”
“I don’t know,” she said, dropping her eyes to the floor. “Maybe I just wanted to see what it would feel like.”
“What what would feel like?”
“Getting away with it,” she replied. Then she shrugged and pulled herself up, her walls rising again. She raised her eyes to his, all false bravado once more. “Or maybe I was just out of that color and I didn’t have fifteen bucks.” He clicked his tongue, again trying not to laugh. He just happened to be in a good mood and she was a piece of work.
“You remind me of my sisters,” he said after a moment. He didn’t know why he said it, but once it was out there, there was no taking it back. He didn’t know what he exactly he was trying to accomplish by talking to the girl, but here he was making conversation.
“You have sisters?” she asked. “How many?”
“A few,” he said. “I have brothers, too.”
“Must be noisy at your house,” she said, her bright brown eyes softening again.
“I’m an only child,” she said. “I always wondered what it would be like to have a brother or sister.”
“It’s never boring, that’s for sure,” he said, as his radio began to crackle again. The sound was low, but he could hear another call coming down the line. A robbery in progress a few blocks over. Another car caught the call, but they would need backup, no doubt. The time for conversation was over. He stood, tossing the lipstick in her direction. She caught it without hesitation. “Come on,” he said, motioning for her to stand. The smile left her face, but she didn’t resist him. She stood and followed him out of the backroom and he could sense her worry. He could have let her sweat a while longer, but he didn’t see the harm in giving her some relief. Before they reached the curtain that led back to the showroom, he stopped and dug in his back pocket.
“Here,” he said, holding out a twenty dollar bill. “You’re going to pay and then you’re going to take your lipstick and go on home. You hear me?” The light was low, but he could see her swallow hard, like she was trying to figure out whether or not he was for real.
“So you’re not going to arrest me?” she asked, turning those big brown eyes on him again. He was such a sucker, he mused. A whiff of innocence and he was bending over backwards to help her. He doubted he would ever be this generous again, but she’d caught him on a good day. He held up the money, offering it to her, and finally she took it, crushing the bill with her fist. Then she followed him into the showroom and up to the cash register at the front, where the eagle-eyed shop owner was watching their every move.
“Miss Spears has something to tell you,” he said, motioning to the girl behind him. “Go on.” He waved her forward. The girl put the lipstick and the twenty on the counter obediently.
“What’s this?” the shop lady said, raising her penciled-on eyebrows.
“I’m sorry,” the girl said. “I meant to pay. I must’ve forgot.”
“You forgot?” the shop-lady responded, not believing it for a second.
“Honest mistake,” Tate piped up from behind the girl. The shop-lady narrowed her eyes at him and snatched the money off the counter. She typed furiously into the cash register, ringing up the lipstick.
“I don’t care if you forgot, little girl,” she muttered as she shoved the twenty into the cash drawer. “Maybe you got Officer Friendly here fooled, but I don’t want to see your thieving ass back in here, you hear me?”
“Yes ma’am,” the girl said, her voice strained like she was trying to keep herself in check.
“Don’t ‘yes ma’am‘ me,” the shop-lady said, slapping the change on the counter. “Get out of my store.”
“Yes ma’am,” the girl said, snapping up the change and the lipstick. Then she headed for the door, more than ready to flee the scene of the crime. Tate gave the pissed shop-lady a simple nod as he followed the girl to the door.
“Bullshit, that’s what this,” he heard her say just before he exited the beauty store. He couldn’t exactly disagree, but the lipstick was paid for. No harm, no foul. He’d done his good deed for the year. He slipped his sunglasses on as the bright summer sun hit him in the face. Out front, Santos was in the squad car, waiting. But he still had unfinished business with Miss Spears.
“Hey!” he called after her. She was already half-way up the block, not bothering to stick around. He couldn’t blame her, he supposed. She stopped and turned and he held up her I.D. She rolled her eyes and hurried back to him, her hair flying around in the breeze. He glanced down at the laminated card again, skimming over her information one last time. Then he held it out for her and she took it.
“You want your change?” she asked, slightly out of breath.
“Keep it,” he said, shaking his head. “Buy yourself a milkshake or something.” She laughed then, flashing white teeth.
“I’m on a diet,” she said, then turned and walked away. He headed back to the car, his attention shifting back to his job. But as he opened the passenger door, he couldn’t help looking up, his eyes quickly finding her on the crowded street. She was just another girl in Harlem, but he had a feeling he’d be seeing more of her. After he slid into the car and slammed the door shut, Santos took off toward the robbery call.
It was only then that something hit him.
The girl’s name was Shaylene Spears. Spears.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” he murmured under his breath. Santos glanced his way.
“What’s up?” Santos asked. Tate shook his head, brushing his partner off, lost in his own mind. He’d heard that name before, he realized. Shaylene Spears was the name of the only daughter of the notorious Sam Spears. Shaylene Spears was also sixteen years old, the exact age of Sam Spears’ daughter. He’d just been in a room with the daughter of one of the most wanted criminals in New York City and he’d let her go. Shit, he’d given her money and let her go. He wanted to smack himself upside the head, but all he could do was chuckle and chalk it up to just another crazy day in the city.
But he knew his earlier intuition was right.
He would definitely be seeing more of Miss Spears. Whether it was around the neighborhood or in a police interrogation room, sooner or later, he’d be seeing her alright.
He sure hated to be right sometimes.
copyright 2015 Lavender Parker. All rights reserved.
As always, all excerpts are subject to change.