“Could you move over there?” Del Flowers asked, snapping her eyes at him. She was striving for a calm tone but as usual her emotions betrayed her.
She never knew exactly how Dominic would respond. Most often he ignored her requests, sometimes he laughed at her, and sometimes he refused.
“You know I need to stay within striking range, Delfina,” he said arranging his long legs more comfortably. He was sprawled out on the steps with his face pointed towards the sun. The mirror sunglasses he affected, glinted; his black hair had that whole messy, but perfectly groomed thing going on. She wondered where he got his product.
“Don’t call me that!”
“Del, then,” he said mildly. “I don’t work for you, remember. If something happened, it would be my life.”
“You make me uncomfortable. And you don’t want me complaining to my dad.”
He shrugged and stretched like a cat. “I’ll take my chances.”
She stared at her lunch sandwich. They’d put mayo on it even though she’d told Dom to get it without, and in the heat of the sun it had gotten gloopy and translucent. She thought she might puke.
Dom had already eaten his sandwich; something thick with slabs of meat and crusty home-style bread, just to prove he could afford it, and now he was looking around at the small clusters of students dotting the quad. He seemed relaxed, bored even, but Del knew he was assessing each and every one of them; figuring out their danger quotient. She suppressed a snort of annoyance. She hardly knew anyone at this school, not even by sight, but she doubted any of them were capable of kidnapping or torture.
Transferring in halfway through term was difficult enough, even without all the other stuff that set her apart.
And Dom was just about the most suspicious person around. He was only a couple of years older than her and was supposed to be passing as a slightly delinquent under-achieving senior, but there was no way. He gave off total predator vibes. Del wondered how much her dad had had to pay the school to overlook the fact that he never attended classes and just lounged in the hallways waiting for her to come out. And then shadowed her like a dog.
After a few long seconds of her shooting daggers at him with her eyes and him steadfastly ignoring her, he shifted over to the opposite end of the cold stone steps, and resumed cleaning his nails. His thick hair swept across his forehead. A couple of sophomores walked past him whispering and giggling but he paid them no mind.
Jeez thought Del impatiently. Everything was such a show with him.
She glared at the knife. It was small, maybe five inches, but wide and sharp with a double edge. He used it for everything; kept it in a small sheaf strapped above his ankle. Right now it was removing grime from under his fingernails. A few moments ago he’d peeled an apple with it in one long continuous strip and then eaten chunks of fruit off the blade point. She’d tried to ignore the flash of his white teeth and the muscles bunching along his firm jaw. One of her problems with Dom- and there were many- was that he thought he was God’s gift and there were enough stupid girls in the world to ensure he kept thinking like that, no matter how many times she put him in his place.
Like those ones staring at him from behind their lashes and sticking their chests out. She glowered at them until they turned away, tossing their hair and throwing her mean glances. They probably thought she was jealous; girls like that only operated on one level.
More kids were collecting in the quad. Most of them in groups, tossing Frisbees and hacky sacks around, chattering, laughing. Del wondered what it felt like to always move around in a pack.
She could have gone to the library as usual, but the heat made the room almost unbearable and she’d discovered that all the windows were welded shut. Yesterday, it had been impossible to concentrate on her reading with all the coughing and sneezing going on around her. It had sounded like a tuberculosis ward. Despite the recent hot weather, it did seem like a lot of students were fighting colds, slouching in the halls, all peaked and tired-looking.
“You make any friends yet?” Dom asked. Sometimes he almost seemed to read her mind.
“Oh sure,” she said sarcastically.
“Your dad doesn’t mind if you do.”
“Basically your presence here ensures that everyone thinks I am a total freak. And a bitch.”
He looked at her appraisingly, but the usual mocking smirk was absent.
“There’s ways you could sort of downplay the situation, you know. But you act like I’m your muscle. It sets you apart. And your clothes—”
She whipped her long hair out of her face and stared at him. “What about my clothes?”
“It’s pretty casual here. You might want to not wear everything from the Italian designer house all at the same time.”
She brushed imaginary lint from her sleeve. “This was expensive.”
“Exactly,” he said lazily, sprawling even more. “You stick out, like an orchid among daisies.”
“So you’re saying I should blend in? Start right now, you mean? Join the band or the drama club? I have less in common with these kids than you do.”
“You’re unapproachable.” He waved to a couple of girls and they simpered and waved back. “You could try and be friendlier.”
“At least I give it a shot.” He raked his eyes over one girl’s body. She was wearing a very brief skirt and her legs were long and tanned. He smiled. “They’re not that hard to please. Just give them a little attention.”
“You talk like they’re a different species.”
He turned to face her. “They are.”
She sneered at him.
“They’re sheep. Most of them anyway,” he continued.
“And you’re a wolf, I suppose.”
“Of course.” He admired his nails, and slid the knife back in its sheaf.
“Or some other kind of canine,” she said.
“You and me are the same, Del.”
She frowned, tired of this conversation already.
“You gonna eat your sandwich?” he asked.
“I told you I hate mayonnaise.”
“Can’t really make egg salad without it. Those are real eggs. Cost me twenty.”
You couldn’t buy eggs in the corner shop anymore. He must have got them on the black market.
“Dollars or posies?” she asked. Posies were a form of money used to pay for illegal or hard-to-find items like meat, cow’s milk, cigarettes, fresh produce, alcohol, guns, Italian fashion. Her dad had come up with the system, then made sure that his money retained value, and encouraged people to use it exclusively. For that favor, someone had started calling the bills ‘posies’, as in a clever twist on their last name.
“Posies. Some day your dad’ll be running everything. He’s diversifying. Looking ahead.”
“That’s the plan anyway.” She knew her dad had been taking meetings with different pharmaceutical and medical companies, and upping his Eyes on the street. He talked with her about it sometimes over dinner; just the two of them, like in the old days.
Something in Dom’s voice made her wonder what his own plan for the future was. Did he think he was the heir to the Flowers’s empire? He’d been around ever since she could remember. First, just as a kid runner low down in the ranks, but lately glued by her dad’s side, unless he was assigned to her, of course. But he was just the bastard son of some Jersey lieutenant. It didn’t matter how ambitious or smart he was, her dad would hand everything over to her one day.
She noticed that Dom was checking out each kid carefully. No, not all the kids now. Just the boys.
“What are you doing?”
“Boss asked me to keep a look out for someone. Collect on a debt.”
Del shook her head. There was no way she’d ever fit in here if Dom was going to combine business with school. Plenty of kids from the neighborhoods joined up, of course, starting in the Eyes and working their way up, but school property was supposed to be out of bounds. Even the dealers knew her dad would string them up by their ankles if they plied their trade here.
“We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile. You’re supposed to listen to what I say.”
“Don’t worry, Lady Del, I won’t embarrass you,” he said with an arrogant grin.
So cocky! She racked her brain for some way to blast his ego.
He got to his feet without a rush. If you didn’t know him you’d think he was relaxed but Del could see that his muscles were primed to spring into action. The long leather jacket was a little tighter across his shoulders. His right hand hovered near his pocket. She knew he kept a snub-nosed gun there. And on the other side, a short club made out of a length of iron pipe. He probably wouldn’t draw either but he liked to check his weapons just in case.
Del followed his eyes. A tall, athletic boy with a mop of blonde hair was approaching the steps. His head was down, his hands shoved into his jeans’ pockets. He looked like he was in deep thought but there was a nervy alertness about him as well.
Dom stepped right up to him.
“You Sammy Finn?” he asked in a deceptively mild voice.
The boy stared at him, casting a quick look over his shoulder at the students standing around. A flash of fear moved across his face but so quick it was like a shadow. For a minute Del thought he was going to run for it and part of her wanted to warn him not to. There was nothing Dom liked more than a chase. After a long moment though, the boy squared his shoulders and drew himself up to his full height.
“You live over off of Tenth? The semi-detached. Your mom is a nurse?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“That’s hardly important.”
The two boys stood really close together, fair head next to dark, as if they were good friends, but Del was expert at gauging tension. It was something she’d had to master before the age of six, living with her dad.
This Sammy looked like he was ready to jump out of skin but he had unconsciously flexed his fists too, and she thought he’d be willing to fight if it came to that. Dom had noticed as well. He leaned in closer and his hand went casually to the inside pocket, which held his club. They were facing off like a couple of cats, all bristle and spine.
Dom looked him over carefully, reassessing him. “You know who I represent?”
“The Eyes. Boss Flowers.”
“Know why I’m here?”
“Yeah.” Without relaxing his muscles, the Sammy guy took a step backwards. There was maybe two feet between them now.
“What do I have to do to even things out? Make all this go away?” he said. “I can give you back the board.”
“Boards are a dime a dozen. It’s the principle of the thing. It sets a bad example, you know? Otherwise it’s just anarchy out there.”
The Sammy guy snorted derisively. “Why don’t you just tell me the bottom line?” He seemed annoyed more than anything. Dom looked completely taken aback. And Del had to keep herself from laughing. This guy was clearly no sheep.
Dom leaned in again, his mouth a straight line. He poked his finger at Sammy’s chest. “This is serious, man.”
Sammy leaned in too. “Last I checked, no one was telling anyone else what was funny or not funny.” He ran his fingers through his mop of hair. “Just tell me what you want me to do. Deliver some packages? Run a few errands?” He sounded tired and frustrated, like he was barely keeping his temper in check. There were deep shadows under his eyes, and his clothes were rumpled as if he had slept in them.
Del tried to remember if she’d seen him around before. He looked the same age as her. They maybe even had classes together but she’d gotten so used to just blurring faces together, ignoring names, being incognito, that she couldn’t place him.
Hollering rose from a tight cluster of students at the bottom of the steps. A fight had broken out between a couple of football throwers. Everyone was getting to their feet, rushing over to check it out, egg the guys on. Dom was distracted momentarily but Del watched a short, muscular boy walk past Sammy, bump knuckles, and she clearly heard him say, “What up, Aidan?”
Aidan nodded briefly, his eyes flicking back to Dom whose head was turned towards the fight, and then he adjusted his stance, so that his weight was balanced on the balls of his feet. He was going to throw a punch, Del thought. Sammy, or Aidan, or whoever the hell he was, was about to get into more trouble than he had ever dreamed of. Why had he lied about his identity, she wondered. Why would someone voluntarily take heat that wasn’t even directed towards them?
“Dom,” Del said, standing up.
“Yeah,” he said, without taking his eyes from Aidan.
“Give him to me.”