George Wheeler felt around with his right foot until he found solid ground. He swung his left foot out of the minivan and tried to stand. It was impossible without the use of his hands, and they were tied behind his back. How many times had he ridden in a minivan with his boys—a newer model with the sliding doors on each side that they’d had some dumb white girl rent from a dealer in New Hampshire so it couldn’t be traced back to them—ready to do a drive-by, never thinking that he would end up in a spot like this?
He was lifted out of the minivan by his shirt and forced to walk. The gun was pressed hard between his shoulder blades as he stumbled along on what wasn’t hard like a sidewalk or street, more like a dirt path. The pillowcase covering his head had the stale smell of an old T-shirt that had sat in the bureau for months.
When the pillowcase was finally pulled off, he could see that they were walking through woods, but where? He looked around for something familiar, a landmark, but it was useless. Too dark. The thick woods blocked out the moonlight. But it really wouldn’t have mattered if it were the middle of the day. For someone who grew up in the projects, woods were woods. You had your choice of the Arboretum or Franklin Park. He had no idea where he was. Just before the pillowcase, the last landmark he’d seen was Sun Pizza. He’d spotted the familiar big red canopy as they drove along Blue Hill Ave. They had driven around so long, he wasn’t even sure if they were still in the city.
George Wheeler was scared. He didn’t want to die tonight. He had thought about begging for his life, talking about his moms, trying to get some sympathy. Maybe even crying. But he had made the decision a long time ago that he would never cry or beg when this day came. He had known such a day would come, and he had sworn to himself that he would never act like a bitch. He was a thug and he would take his shit like a man.
He tried to think back to why he had started running with his crew in the first place. He couldn’t even remember now. He used to do pretty good in school, before he stopped going. Maybe it was the easy money, the rush he got selling drugs for a few hours instead of working a full week at Burger King.
But once he got involved in the game, he couldn’t get out. And when his crew started warring with some of the other crews, he had to prove his willingness to sacrifice everything for his boys. Most of the beefs started over stupid shit, a fistfight over a girl or someone selling a beat bag to the wrong person. Selling burn bags on the street was a sure way to bring some drama back on the crew. But once it started, no one would back down or try to make things right. When it was on, it was on.
G-Wheel was young when he had set himself out as a shooter. He had the balls to go on missions that no one else would even think about. He would walk right into enemy territory and light the place up. He had started out with the Mavericks as a crash test dummy for the OGs, the original gangstas, the older guys, doing whatever it was that they wanted done. Then he became one of the leaders of the crew. Nobody messed with him, because they knew he was capable of doing anything, to anyone, at anytime.
But his reputation got around and he became a marked man himself. So many dudes wanted to take him out, to be the one that offed the great G-Wheel. At a certain point he felt that he couldn’t trust anyone, even members of the Mavericks. And he was right. He had been ready for anything.
Until tonight. He’d let his guard down. Now he found himself in a situation.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. He stopped walking and the hand pushed him down to his knees. He remembered a scene from a gangsta movie he and his boys had watched. They didn’t discriminate between white or black gangsta movies—they liked them all. And just like the guy in the movie, George knew he was about to get smoked.
George Wheeler wished he could go back and change all the bad decisions he had made. He wanted to undo all the blood that was shed between the Mavericks and their enemies. All of it seemed so stupid now. Fighting over what? As he knelt there in those damp, quiet woods, he accepted the fact that he was about to die. He imagined himself in a church, kneeling at the pew. When was the last time he’d been in a church?
He began to pray in a loud voice. “Our father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven—”
The cold steel of the gun pressed against the base of his skull.
He didn’t waver, continuing on with his prayer, louder. “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us—”
He heard the explosion at the same time he felt the bullet tear into his head. It was only a momentary sensation, an instant of something like pain, then nothing.Chapter Two
Angel Alves felt like a drill sergeant, watching his little athletes run in place. They were only seven- and eight-year-olds, the Mitey Mite division, and he tried not to laugh as their scrawny legs pumped up and down. But he couldn’t ease up on them. They were counting on him to teach them how to win.
“Hunter,” he yelled, “no time to tie that shoe. And let’s get those knees up, Iris. This is football. There’s no quitting in football.”
He had managed that with a straight face. But he almost laughed once more, suddenly imagining the poor kids with Wayne Mooney as their coach. They’d all be in the bleachers crying to their mothers. He missed the Sarge, but he didn’t miss the way Mooney rode him. Without Mooney as his boss, he had time to be a part of his twins’ lives.
Alves studied Iris’s running form. She kept her knees high, chest level. She was tough. If he’d tried that with little Angel, the kid would be faking an injury. He kept the kids working for another couple minutes. Then he blew his whistle, which meant they had to hit the deck. Iris was the first one down on her belly. She was back on her feet, running in place, before half the other kids hit the dirt. She had great stamina and quickness, and when he saw her doing these drills, competing with the other kids, he was reminded how good an athlete she was.
One last whistle.
“Okay, kids, that’s a wrap,” Alves said. “Give me one lap over the hill and you can go home. First three to make it back get to be the captains for Saturday’s game.”
Alves watched as Iris led the team up the hill while Angel lagged behind. He was always one of the last to finish the lap. Alves had never imagined that his daughter would be the jock in the family. Even though they were the same age, Angel was a couple of inches shorter than Iris, and a good fifteen pounds heavier. His stout legs were moving a hundred miles an hour, but not getting him anywhere. Alves hoped that football would get his son into shape and teach him discipline and toughness. So far, the only thing it had taught him was that his twin sister was a better athlete. And now all the other kids knew it too.
Alves drifted over to talk with some of the parents. A few were angry about having a practice on a Sunday night, especially with the first full week of school starting the next morning. But he had no choice. Their first game was less than a week away and the kids had to be prepared. He didn’t want any of them getting hurt.
Mrs. Williams was staring him down. He gave her his best smile, hoping to break the tension. He was sympathetic, some of the mothers worked long hours like he did. She was a nurse and overprotective. The other parents were folding chairs and gathering up their things. “Same time tomorrow night, guys,” he called before he lost any of them. “Trevor had a great practice, Mrs. Williams. I think we’ve got our center for Saturday’s game.”
But her smile of gratitude froze on her face as a scream cut through the air.
“Kids horsing around,” someone said.
“Maybe,” Alves said. He was always breaking up shoving matches, telling his players to pay attention, to stop poking each other. Raising his whistle to his lips, he turned to see who he was going to have to discipline.
A second scream, this time louder, more sustained. It was Iris. Something was wrong.
Alves began to jog across the dusty baseball diamond in the middle of their practice field, trying to make out figures on the darkening hill. Then a chorus of screams echoed across the field. There was Iris, leading the rest of the team down the hill. She had her brother by his jersey, dragging him. Alves was running at a full sprint now. When he reached Iris at the foot of the hill, her face was pale with terror.
“It’s okay, honey. Daddy’s here,” he said, hugging her close. He reached out and grabbed Angel in his embrace.
“She’s dead, Daddy. She’s dead,” Iris cried.
“The woman is dead, Daddy. I know she is,” Iris shouted, pointing up the hill.
“Iris,” Alves said. “Listen to me, honey. I want you to lead the team back to the other parents. You and Angel can wait with Mrs. Williams. I’ll be back in a minute, okay?”
He held her until she nodded.
“Everything’s going to be fine. Now, run.”
Then Alves started up the hill as the last of the kids staggered down. “Go to your parents,” he instructed them. None of them seemed upset. Maybe they hadn’t seen what Iris had.
A few of the other parents caught up to Alves. “Everything okay, Angel?” one of them asked. “You need some help?”
“Wait here,” Alves said. “I’ll give a shout if I need you.”
Alves took his Mini Mag-Lite out of his belt holster and made his way up the hill, shining the light on the path in front of him. He was getting some extra light from the glow of the field lights, not enough to feel comfortable. As he reached the crest of the hill, the path widened out, and he emerged from the tree-lined path onto a ledge surrounding a large rock. He had never been up here before. He had only watched from the field below as the kids made their laps to begin and end practice.
Without the cover of the trees, the moonlight gave him some guidance as he navigated along the path. He scanned his surroundings, sweeping the air with broad strokes of his extended arm, the flashlight cutting into the cool night air. No signs of a dead woman anywhere. What had Iris seen?
Alves turned to go back down the hill on the other side of the rock. And, there she was, leaning up against a tree, her head tilted, gazing at him. Her face was made up for a night out. She was wearing a light- colored gown with a fancy necklace. It was her pose that set something off in him. Her back was arched, accentuating her chest, her cleavage revealed in the cut of the dress. The seductive pose, her outfit, and the makeup made her seem so alive.
But her eyes, covered in a milky film, told a different story. Alves had spent a lot of time around death in the last few years and he could sense it. If he’d wanted, he could check her pulse the way paramedics and doctors did before pronouncing death. He could attempt to revive her. But Alves didn’t. She was dead.
As he got closer with his light he saw that the makeup was caked on thick, covering the discoloration of her skin. A thin black wire secured her to the tree. Her hands were tied to her hips with the same wire. Alves tried to move her head, but it was held firmly in place by the wire running through the braid in her long dark hair. Her eyes appeared to be focused on him, asking him for help. But it was too late for that. Her skin was as cold as the early autumn air.
Instinctively he reached for the radio in his back pocket. The radio was back in the car. He used his cell to call 9-1-1, telling the operator, “Detective Alves from Homicide. I’ve got a body at Franklin Park. In the field by the Shattuck. I need you to make all the notifications.”
He had a thought. Maybe she wasn’t looking at him. What had she been staged to look at before he got there? Alves bent and lifted his pant leg. He took his .38 S&W from his ankle holster. He crouched and spun around with his snubby and the Mag-Lite.
There he was, twenty yards away, against a tree, hidden by a thick shrub.
“Police! Get your hands up!” Alves shouted, staying in his crouched position.
Alves stayed low as he ducked behind the tree Jane Doe was tied to. He made his way to a tree a little closer, training the light on him. The perp hadn’t moved. He was standing fully upright.
“Show me your hands!” Alves commanded, ducking behind another tree. He was less than ten yards away now. He put the light on the perp again.
In the artificial cone of yellow light, Alves saw that the figure was wearing a tuxedo.
Stepping from behind the tree, Alves made his way forward. The man stood unnaturally rigid. Not even a flinch as Alves stepped over brush and dry leaves to reach him. The man was ocean frank, like the girl. The scene was familiar. Nothing he had seen himself. But he had heard enough from his old sergeant Wayne Mooney to know what he had just found.Chapter Three
The old Crown Vic screeched around the corner as Detective Mark Greene gunned the engine. Detective Jack Ahearn radioed dispatch with their location. In the back, Assistant District Attorney Connie Darget held onto the grab handles above each door. There were no seatbelts. As Greene straightened out the car, Connie ripped off the right handle. The left handle held strong. He tossed the detached U of plastic under Ahearn’s seat.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from 2 in the Hat by Raffi Yessayan. Copyright © 2010 by Raffi Yessayan. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.