Authors: Gin Price
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright Â© 2016 by
First E-book Edition 2016
ISBN: 9781464205212 ebook
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
The historical characters and events portrayed in this book are inventions of the author or used fictitiously.
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
To those who create and those who explore, seeing possibilities where most see only limitationsâyou inspire me.
To my family, whose support was all that kept me going at times. Specifically, my mom, Debra; my sister, Rachel; and my children, Shyla and Hayes.
To my agent, Andrea, who fought to find an editor who would understand that freerunning is a subject worthy of attention and
gave up. Thank you!
To my editor Ellen, who simply gets me. You bring out the best in me. It's a pleasure!
To the few who have touched me deeply by performing simple acts of kindness without reason. Sharon and Randyâtwo people who deserve recognition.
And lastly, a special dedication to my best friend from school gone way too soon: April. You are sorely, sorely missed.
I would like to thank all of the graffiti artists, and all of the traceurs, pro and amateur alike, who have braved criticism and snark from the Internet and posted their videos anyway. It doesn't matter how swank you are. It doesn't matter how up. I have enjoyed every vid from the fantastically bad, to the incredibly good, and I will never stop watching. You are appreciated. Not every watcher is a h8r. Keep 'em coming.
I must thank Mr. Dan who had spent many hours listening to me spout off ideas for this book, and who, with one suggestion, changed the course of my novel. I should've thought of it, considering my fondness, but sometimes we can't see what's right in front of us. Thanks for being my glasses.
I also have to thank David for being there for me when times were tough. When pain kept me down and threatened to change me, you gave me the ambition I needed to get up and find my adventurous side again. Thank you for supplying me with the perfect personality for my Brennen. I look forward to many more adventures.
I wasn't going to make it.
I had a stitch in my side as widespread as the distance between the Pizza Pie Pagoda and the apartment roof we ran across, so the chances I'd screw up and smack my head against the concrete waiting below were pretty good. The waist of my yoga pants began to unroll, the fabric sliding down with every pump of my aching legs and I had to waste precious energy to pull them up. But if I didn't, and I stepped on a hem, I'd stumble.
Stumbling would be badâlike lose-a-tooth-on-the-balance-beam-the-day-before-prom bad. Already I could feel the quiver of fatigue in my knees signaling my eventual burnout.
“He's going to catch me, he's going to catch me,” I chanted between panted breaths.
I spoke more to myself than my companion, but he answered anyway. “Nah, baby-girl, you got this. Forearm, shoulder, booty, then knee up and walk away. Daily cake.”
I grunted. Easy for him to say. This fiasco made it five consecutive hours of balls-out athletics for me while he was on hour two, and only slightly less out of breath than I.
“Get back here!” The voice behind bellowed, growing closer.
I threw off my rhythm a fraction to look behind me. “Damn, he's on us. How'd he get up here so fast?”
“You realize I had you this time, right?”
Appalled at my friend Surge's attempt to claim a victory when the game had clearly been called due to weather conditionsâit was raining copsâI ran faster, pushing myself beyond my limits toward the roof's edge. I didn't care if my pants fell around my ankles mid-flight; I was going to win our little game todayâand moon the state of Michigan doing it.
But first, I had to stay out of jail.
“Whoa! Come back.” The cop yelled. He sounded more concerned now than angry.
Too late. There was no coming back once we'd made the decision to run.
“Boosh!” Surge yelled as we both hopped the lip of the roof and leapt across the expanse between the buildings, sprawled out and reaching through the air like action heroes.
Unlike the movies, nothing happened slow enough for me to process the danger of a jump. I committed to the plunge and depended on ingrained knowledge to take over.
The Pizza Pie Pagoda building came up fast. I bent my legs to absorb the shock and let my exhausted body fall forward and to the side. The remaining energy of the landing pushed me over in a Side-Roll, taking the impact from thigh to shoulder until the momentum brought me up to my feet again. Hurray, incoming bruise.
Surge's Roll was swankier than mine, but for once he didn't gloat. Probably because we didn't have time.
“You kids all right?” The cop called from the building over.
We didn't take the time to answer him verbally. We just waved off his concern and continued to ignore his command to give ourselves up. Surge grabbed my elbow and helped me to the side of the pizza place where we were able to hang off the side of the roof and drop down into the alley.
“How you doing?” Surge asked me, once we were making distance between us and the cop.
“Well, I worked my butt off in gymnastics practice, ran around the mall only to get kicked out because of your food court tabletop trickâ”
“You've got to admit that was swank,” he interrupted. “How was I supposed to know they were going to call in the real blue?”
“And now I've spent the last ten minutes upgrading from a trespassing ticket to an arrest.”
“Only if we got caught, which we didn't. So you owe me five bucks.” He grinned at me and I couldn't help but return it.
“We aren't off main, yet.” I slapped his extended palm away. “When I'm home and couching, you'll get your five.”
I tugged off my black hoodie as we walked, stuffing it behind a dumpster to come back for later. We knew the drill. You didn't walk around wearing the same colored clothes after a cop was running you down. The next corner you turned would probably have you stuffed in a squad car before the first lie left your mouth. Changing shirts wasn't much, but it was better than nothing. Besides, with my hoodie on, most cops mistakenly took me for a guy. I guess they thought girls had better things to do than monkey around the cityscape.
“Damn, there's the cop,” Surge said.
I looked down the block and frowned. He didn't seem to notice us any more than the other pedestrians, but to be safe, I tugged Surge into the Slow Drip.
The few tables inside the coffee shop were up front with a window view, while racks and racks of tee-shirts and other gift items created an aisle to the registers in the back. Outside, a few more two-seater tables were full of the loitering public, making blending in a little easier.
“I guess we take a time-out for refreshments,” I said.
Surge paced, looking out the storefront with his lips pursed. “He's going to keep circling and look in here eventually. Not sure stopping was a good idea this time.”
“Hey Surge,” a girl called out from behind us.
I turned and nodded a greeting at Ramona as she chatted up Surge. Dressed in her coffee-pot-shaped apron and teardrop visor-hat, she was clearly working the counter.
Wenda, her best friend and my gymnastics nemesis, walked up and stood next to her. We were all on the same team but no one would know it the way they actedâexcept Wenda and I were both wearing our Kennedy Gymnastics Team tee-shirts.
“Hey guys,” I said, trying to be a beacon of polite through the thick fog of seething hatred. Ramona tried to smile but settled on a grimace. Wenda didn't even try to hide her nostril-flare face.
“Ramona-girl, you think you could get us out the back of this place?” Surge asked.
Standing on her tiptoes, Wenda leaned up to whisper something in Ramona's ear while staring at me.
“I can take one of you through,” Ramona started to say.
Surge snorted. “Forget it.”
“No, no.” I knew this was a good opportunity to draw less attention to ourselves. “Surge, you go out the back and I'll go out the front.” I smiled my second-best smile at Wenda, while talking to him. “We'll meet up at the library and finish what we started earlier.”
His glare at the two girls melted when he turned to me, and I suspected he did that on purpose to show anti-bitchery support. “Ooo. I accept your challenge! I'll even beat you there.” He winked and then turned to Ramona. “Lead the way, mama.”
With Ramona taking Surge out the back door, Wenda and I were left standing there. “Guess I'll see you next practice.” I said.
“Oh, didn't you hear? We're going to do individual practices until coach returns from her vacation.”
Odd. I hadn't heard, but I wasn't exactly surprised. Since Regionals, I'd suspected that some of the girls were mad at me. Now my suspicions had been confirmed.
“Well, then. See ya at school.”
“Whatever.” She did the hand brush-off and turned her back on me, cutting me down without saying another word.
Shaking my head, I turned and left the coffee shop.
No one had ever looked at me with such hatred before, and I couldn't figure out where it came from. I knew gymnastics competition pitted us against each other a lotâand I'd definitely ridden the group hard at Regionals at the end of last seasonâbut it seemed like there was more to her attitude than just rivalry, but whatever. I couldn't puzzle through her bullshit when I still needed to get a few blocks away to avoid a tour of the city jail.
Losing my concern for Wenda was easy once I was freerunning again on my way to the library. No troubles or stressful thoughts stood a chance against the heart-pumping adrenaline rush of parkour.
I raced down streets using the objects in my way to increase my pace instead of slow me down. I swung under a metal railing and leaped over its parallel twin. I jumped over a fire hydrant and the three bikes locked on the rack right next to it, all without choking up.
My seamless movements cancelled out Surge's head start, and as I rounded the corner on the last block to the library, I caught sight of my friend a block to my right.
At the same time, he noticed me.
I heard his laugh across the distance and the challenge within it spurred me on. “Oh, you are so getting
,” I promised quietly, forcing my legs into motion.
So close, so close! If I could get to the lion statue first, I'd get the prize, but Surge wasn't going to make it easy on me. We both ran full speed, coming closer to each other and to our destination.
I vaulted over one wide stone railing, Kong-style, with my feet straight out in front, ready to catch me for my landing.
I didn't expect anyone to be standing there.
“Oh my Gawd! You stupid skank!”
My feet landed briefly on the edge of the step in front of the girl running her mouth. Without interrupting my flow, I leapt up onto the flat surface of the stone rail and looked over my shoulder in time to see Surge launch over the chick's backside as she bent to pick up her books. He sailed through the air with one leg extended and the other bent forming a perfect L.
Classic! But I held my applause. I wasn't about to be outdone.
I didn't bother answering the girl's “skank” comment. No point, really. I was probably the only girl in school that could still be called a virgin, but neither title could be considered flattering, so why quibble?âas my mom used to say.
Calling me stupid felt a little harsh. In my opinion, she had no one to blame but herself for our near-collision. Anyone who was anyone knew these streets were more “ours” than “theirs” now. Even according to the Balls-In-A-Bunch Mayor Daemen: “Our streets have been taken over by these freerunners and graffiti painters.”
I liked to think of that as an admission of ownership.
Besides, if she'd been looking up, instead of texting while waddling down the grand staircase, she'd be in possession of all her papers instead of chasing them around.
I jumped onto the back of a lion statue and ran up his spine until I teetered on the very top of his wavy mane.
Surge should've been on me by now, talking some smack to try and throw off my game.
The arches of my feet gripped the lion's ears as I paused to look for him.
Figures. I'd been about to do something exceptionally freak, and Surge wasn't even watching. He was bent over picking up the blonde's scattered papers as she stood there being completely unhelpful. Kinda like me, but I had distance as an excuse. When she started babbling incoherently about pickpockets and diversionary tactics while clutching her purse, I felt the urge to slap her down a bit. So what? We like to live free so that means we're criminals?
“Sorry about your unfortunate grip. My fault,” I apologized-ish.
The girl turned her nose up at me and busied herself accepting the papers Surge held out to her, and though I couldn't hear what she said, her smile told a story of flirtation I'd read on plenty of faces before hers.
My boy's dark skin glistened with sweat earned from our one-upping game, so his white wife-beater stuck to his chest like skin, accentuating muscles all the girls drooled over. Who wouldn't flirt with him?
Other than me, of course.
Surge wasâ¦well Surge. I think there are laws against ogling my brother's friends. But if I were going to ogle any of them, he'd be my pick. It either had something to do with the fact Surge and I got on well, or because the rest of my brother's friends were exactly like my brother: a bunch of jackasses with questionable morals.
“Surge.” I complained. Okay, maybe I whined a little, but after the last few hours I deserved a minor meltdown or two.
Chased by the cops, ditching my favorite hoodie, and playing hide-and-seek in the Slow Drip so I didn't get arrested made me a little cranky. And so did distractions in the form of name-calling cookie-cutter chicks.
Nothing should disrupt the groove while freerunning, since the whole idea behind the expression is to get from point A to point B without pause. Fluid movement at all times was key.
Surge was obviously thinking about a different type of fluid and where he wanted to move it to.
trying to get laid mid-game?” I swung in front of the lion's face and hooked my foot into his perpetually roaring mouth. Pushing off, I performed a backflip with my feet extended and landed effortlessly on the rail. Not the move I'd planned a few minutes ago, but Surge's grin said it all.
“You and your acrobatics.” He shook his head at me and waved an absent farewell to the girl.
Like all females in Surge's life, she failed to hold his interest, though this dismissal could be a new speed record. Of course, her calling me skank could've been a factor. Surge was nothing if not loyal to my family.
Blowing her off like crumbs on a shirt, he hopped up a few stairs until he stood even with me. Holding his arms out to his sides, he bowed. “I do concede to thee, Lady of The Ledge.”
He read a
Best of Shakespeare
book last year. The experience made him talk funny sometimes, but I liked it because he dubbed me Lady Ledge, LL for short. The name caught on and thankfully replaced the dopey street name my brother gave me. I couldn't live with being called Pigeon all the time, and the jury was still out on my real name, Emanuella.
“Sweet!” I flexed at Surge's praise and caught the reward he threw at me. Toffifay! The caramel, hazelnut, and chocolate candy goodnessâmy only addiction. My mom loved them when she was alive, and always kept a pack at the house. You couldn't find 'em at regular stores sometimes, so they were worth showing off for.
He looked at his watch as I shoveled a few pieces in my mouthâa slob move I never would've done in front of anyone else.
“We better get going. Your pops is going to have my beautiful black buttocks if you don't show up for the we're-going-to-screw-you-over fest tonight.”
My dad insisted that I go to the school board meeting in case a student's perspective was needed to keep Kennedy High from closing. What a big waste of time. It'd cost too much to bus us all across town to Branfort, so our school was safe, in my opinion, but my father was paranoid.
“I don't trust those sons of bitches,” he'd said over breakfast. “You're going to meet me there tonight and look forlorn and pathetic. Tell Surge I said hi and he better have you at the meeting.”
I'd relayed the message to Surge when we first hooked up, hence why he looked slightly panicked now. My pops is a big, white boy trucker, who told whatever guy came 'round the house that he knew places to hide bodies all over the U.S. Maybe I should've been embarrassed by his violent imagery, but he probably felt threats were his only way of protecting me from my brother's friends while he was away delivering car parts and whatnot cross-country.
In truth, he didn't have to worry. Between Surge and my brothers, no one dared ask me out. I guess most little sisters would hate that kind of blockage, but I could honestly say a boy didn't exist in my territory I wanted to date. Not that I looked. A boyfriend wasn't a priority. I had dreams of going to college on a gymnastics scholarship, and after coming in first at Regionals, I was getting closer to that goal.
I figured my win, and the huge deal the media made out of the school I came from, was proof that Pops had nothing to worry about. Still, Surge was right, we had to go. We could run from the cops, but my dad was another story. “Alright, motor on.”
I walked back up the spine of the lion ready to start the freerun flow again, only to hear Surge cluck his tongue in the code we used for incoming security. We'd used it so much lately I was surprised we didn't have blisters on the roofs of our mouths.
I dismounted from the statue and waved at the sharply dressed library guard who came storming down the steps toward me.
“You almost got close this time, Carl!”
“Quit antagonizing him, LL. Come on.”
Surge grabbed my hand and practically dragged me all the way to City Hall.
We stayed grounded, which made the travel time longer, but Surge refused to freerun so close to police headquarters after our earlier encounter. I couldn't blame him. I faced a ticket or an arrest for disorderly conduct. Surge was on probation, thanks to the trespassing tickets he'd accumulated over the past two years. If he got busted now, he'd not only be in violation, but they'd probably add every charge they could: malicious destruction of property, failure to yield to pedestriansâbreathing. That's what happens when freedom of expression collides with boundaries.
We arrived downtown with a few minutes to spare, but no time to catch our breath as we hurried to the front door.
City Hall is a three-story building, if you included the basement where all the financial offices were. That's where you went to pay your “idiot tickets,” as Pops called them.
The outside looked like someone had painted the building with mortar and thrown pebbles at it. Most of the pebbles had either lost their shine or fallen off during the years since the building's birth, which was in 1954, according to the plaque above the main entrance.
Once, City Hall had been a modern and well cared-for establishment. Now, years of neglect and angry, destructive criminals had brought it down. An ongoing theme in the good ole city of Three Rivers.
A couple of cops held the front door open for us. Surge tensed as we passed as if he expected a net to come down on his head.
“Stop looking so shifty,” I scolded as we walked down the corridor. “Cops within a mile radius will home in on that look of guilt.”
“Don't need a mile when their jail is attached to this building, LL.”
“It's been an hour and he didn't get a good look at us. Paranoid much?”
I opened the double doors to the conference room and blinked. The proceedings seemed to be on hold, as the board members talked amongst themselves. The lull made our entrance center-stage. Yippee.
The walls were lined with the general public. Police officers stood at attention at ten-foot intervals to protect and serveâthe board members. They eyed us suspiciously as we entered.
“See? I just got mentally written four tickets by those cops for SWB.”
The officers were staring at us hard, but that's probably in their job description. “SWB?” I asked.
“Standing While Black.”
I laughed a little louder than could be considered good manners, earning me a crooked-finger-beckon from my Pops.
“There are two white cops here and the rest, well, aren't. You can't say that,” I said, surfing the bodies toward the seats my father saved for us.
“They're still paid by Whitey. We're on the Branfort side, remember?”
I rolled my eyes. Surge was a victimized black man in his own mind, trapped in a diverse community that never did anything racist toward him. He had to invent things to tell his cousins in California.
“You're late,” Pops growled, looking over my head at Surge.
With a playful slap I chastised him for bullying as I snuck in behind his gigantic body. Despite my father's dramatics, he really could be described as a big teddy bear. “Sit, Surge. No way am I staying here alone.”
My father shushed me and I sat down without another word.
The board members gathered their tiny brains and melded them together, whispering among themselves untilâ¦ “We've come to a decision.”
“Wait! That's it? You've come to a decision in ten minutes and without hearing what everyone has to say?”
The crowd collectively jostled for a better look at the guy who spoke, mumbling their concerns about his outburst.
“Young man,” a rotund woman barked from the council chairs, trying to be heard over the growing din. “The parents here have spoken eloquently enough for your case. We feelâ”
The young man in question stood on his chair and pointed his finger at each board member. “We, the students, are the most affected. We deserve to have a voice.”
Huh, I thought. The guy kind of sounded like my Pops.
I gave him a quick once-over, wondering, probably like everyone else, whether or not he was legitimate or starting trouble on a dare from his friends. He wore his pants baggy but not thug-y and a hoodie with the hood portion pushed back instead of drawn up over his dark hair. But his face, from what I could see from my side view, was the most startling attribute. I couldn't see if he was hot or anything, but his skin was bright red with anger, like he was really pissed at not being allowed some mic time.
“Could someone please escort this young man out?”
“He has a right to speak,” someone shouted.
“This has dragged on long enough,” someone else countered. And the fighting began.
By then, the local police had their hands on the guy who started the disturbance and jerked him off his chair. I gasped and stood, feeling like I should do something to help him, but what?
“This is bullshit,” the guy yelled.
His gaze searched the crowd for support and landed onâ¦me of all people. I tried to encourage him with a “right-on” smile, but our moment of camaraderie was broken by a mass of bodies as people stood to argue with each other or get a better look at the drama.
A really old, fragile-looking man banged his gavel on the oval table at the back of the room and rose to make an announcement. “Settle down, people. Settle down.”
A cop was whispering into the young guy's ear while giving him a quick pat down. The other officers were motioning with their hands for everyone to sit and regain control of themselves. There was still grumbling, but the old guy who seemed to be in charge spoke over the noise.
“This outburst does not change the board's verdict! Due to the city's current financial crisis, we have no choice but to close both Kennedy and Branfort. The students will move to a central location in Three Rivers, and attend what used to be known as Three Rivers Academy.”
My Pops hates it when I swear, but for once he didn't say a word as I jumped out of my chair, my former confidence in Kennedy's stability shattered. “That's fuâ!” Of course, he probably couldn't hear me as total chaos broke out at City Hall.