One False Move Page 6

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“You’ve had no contact with her?”

“Just a couple of letters.”

“Any return address?”

Brenda shook her head. “They were postmarked in New York City. That’s all I know.”

“Would Horace know where she lives?”

“No. He’s never so much as spoken her name in the past twenty years.”

“At least not to you.”

She nodded.

“Maybe the voice on the phone didn’t mean your mother,” Myron said. “Do you have a stepmother? Did your father remarry or live with someone—”

“No. Since my mother there has been no one.”

Silence.

“So why would someone be asking about your mother after twenty years?” Myron asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Any ideas?”

“None. For twenty years she’s been a ghost to me.” She pointed up ahead. “Make a left.”

“Do you mind if I get a trace put on your phone? In case they call again?”

She shook her head.

He steered the car per her instructions. “Tell me about your relationship with Horace,” he said.

“No.”

“I’m not asking to be nosy—”

“It’s irrelevant, Myron. If I loved him or hated him, you still need to find him.”

“You got a restraining order to keep him away from you, right?”

She said nothing for a moment. Then: “Do you remember how he was on the court?”

Myron nodded. “A madman. And maybe the best teacher I ever had.”

“And the most intense?”

“Yes,” Myron said. “He taught me not to play with so much finesse. That wasn’t always an easy lesson.”

“Right, and you were just some kid he took a liking to. But imagine being his own child. Now imagine that on-court intensity mixed with his fear that he would lose me. That I would run away and leave him.”

“Like your mother.”

“Right.”

“It would be,” Myron said, “stifling.”

“Try suffocating,” she corrected. “Three weeks ago we were playing a promotional scrimmage at East Orange High School. You know it?”

“Sure.”

“A couple of guys in the crowd were getting rowdy. Two high school kids. They were on the basketball team. They were drunk or high, or maybe they were just punks. I don’t know. But they started yelling things out at me.”

“What kind of things?”

“Graphic and ugly things. About what they’d like to do to me. My father stood up and went after them.”

“I can’t say I blame him,” Myron said.

She shook her head. “Then you’re another Neanderthal.”

“What?”

“Why would you have gone after them? To defend my honor? I’m a twenty-five-year-old woman. I don’t need any of that chivalry crap.”

“But—”

“But nothing. This whole thing, your being here—I’m not a radical feminist or anything, but it’s a load of sexist bullshit.”

“What?”

“If I had a penis between my legs, you wouldn’t be here. If my name was Leroy and I got a couple of weird phone calls, you wouldn’t be so hot to protect poor little me, would you?”

Myron hesitated a second too long.

“And,” she continued, “how many times have you seen me play?”

The change of subject caught him off guard. “What?”

“I was the number one collegiate player three years in a row. My team won two national championships. We were on ESPN all the time, and during the NCAA finals we were on CBS. I went to Reston University, which is only half an hour from where you live. How many of my games did you see?”

Myron opened his mouth, closed it, said, “None.”

“Right. Chicks’ basketball. It’s not worth the time.”

“That’s not it. I don’t watch much sports anymore.” He realized how lame he sounded.

She shook her head and grew quiet.

“Brenda—”

“Forget I said anything. It was dumb to raise the subject.”

Her tone left little room for follow-up. Myron wanted to defend himself, but he had no idea how. He opted for silence, an option he should probably exercise more often.

“Take your next right,” she said.

“So what happened next?” he asked.

She looked at him.

“To the punks who called you names. What happened after your father went after them?”

“The security guards broke it up before anything really happened. They threw the kids out of the gym. Dad too.”

“I’m not sure I see the point of this story.”

“It’s not over yet.” Brenda stopped, looked down, summoned up a little something, raised her head again. “Three days later the two boys—Clay Jackson and Arthur Harris—were found on the roof of a tenement building. Someone had tied them up and cut their Achilles tendon in half with pruning shears.”

Myron’s face lost color. His stomach took a nosedive. “Your father?”

Brenda nodded. “He’s been doing stuff like that my whole life. Never this bad. But he’s always made people who cross me pay. When I was a little girl with no mother, I almost welcomed the protection. But I’m not a little girl anymore.”

Myron absently reached down and touched the back of his ankle. Cut the Achilles tendon in half. With pruning shears. He tried not to look too stunned. “The police must have suspected Horace.”

“Yes.”

“So how come he wasn’t arrested?”

“Not enough evidence.”

“Couldn’t the victims identify him?”

She turned back to the window. “They’re too scared.” She pointed to the right. “Park there.”

Myron pulled over. People toddled about the street. They stared at him as though they had never seen a white man; in this neighborhood that was entirely possible. Myron tried to look casual. He nodded a polite hello. Some people nodded back. Some didn’t.

A yellow car—nay, a speaker on wheels—cruised by, blaring a rap tune. The bass was set so high that Myron felt the vibrations in his chest. He could not make out the lyrics, but they sounded angry. Brenda led him to a stoop. Two men were sprawled on the stairs like war wounded. Brenda stepped over them without a second glance. Myron followed. He suddenly realized that he had never been here before. His relationship with Horace Slaughter had been strictly basketball. They had always hung out on the playground or in a gym or maybe grabbing a pizza after a game. He had never been in Horace’s home, and Horace had never been in his.

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