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by James Patterson
Warner Books, 2002
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ON A TUESDAY NIGHT, I found myself playing a game of crazy eights with three residents of the Hope Street Teen House. I was loving it.
On the beat-up couch across from me sat Hector, a barrio kid two days out of Juvenile; Alysha, quiet and pretty, but with a family history you wouldn't want to know; and Michelle, who at fourteen had already spent a year selling herself on the streets of San Francisco.
"Hearts," I declared, flipping down an eight and changing the suit just as Hector was about to lay out.
"Damn, badge lady," he whined. "How come each time I'm 'bout to go down, you stick your knife in me?"
"Teach you to ever trust a cop, fool." Michelle laughed, tossing a conspiratorial smile my way.
For the past month, I'd been spending a night or two a week at the Hope Street House. For so long after the terrible bride and groom case that summer, I'd felt completely lost. I took a month off from Homicide, ran down by the marina, gazed out at the bay from the safety of my Potrero Hill flat.
Nothing helped. Not counseling, not the total support of my girlsClaire, Cindy, Jill. Not even going back to the job. I had watched, unable to help, as the life leaked out of the person I loved. I still felt responsible for my partner's death in the line of duty. Nothing seemed to fill the void.
So I came here...to Hope Street.
And the good news was, it was working a little. I peered up from my cards at Angela, a new arrival who sat in a metal chair across the room cuddling her three-month- old daughter. The poor kid, maybe sixteen, hadn't said much all night. I would try to talk to Angela before I left.
The door opened and Dee Collins, one of the house's head counselors, came in. She was followed by a stiff-looking black woman in a conservative gray suit. She had Department of Children and Families written all over her.
"Angela, your social worker's here." Dee knelt down beside her.
"I ain't blind," the teenager said.
"We're going to have to take the baby now," the social worker interrupted, as if completing this assignment was all that kept her from catching the next Caltrain.
"No!" Angela pulled the infant even closer. "You can keep me in this hole, you can send me back to Claymore, but you're not taking my baby."
"Please, honey, only for a few days," Dee Collins tried to assure her.
The teenage girl drew her arms protectively around her baby, who, sensing some harm, began to cry.
"Don't you make a scene, Angela," the social worker warned. "You know how this is done."
As she came toward her, I watched as Angela jumped out of the chair. She was clutching the baby in one arm and a glass of juice she'd been drinking in the opposite hand.
In one swift motion, she cracked the glass against a table. It created a jagged shard.
"Angela." I jumped up from the card table. "Put that down. No one's going to take your baby anywhere unless you let her go."
"This bitch is trying to ruin my life." She glared. "First she lets me sit in Claymore three days past my date, then she won't let me go home to my mom. Now she's trying to take my baby girl."
I nodded, peering into the teenager's eyes. "First, you gotta lay down the glass," I said. "You know that, Angela."
The DCF worker took a step, but I held her back. I moved slowly toward Angela. I took hold of the glass, then I gently eased the child out of her arms.
"She's all I have," the girl whispered, and then she started to sob.
"I know." I nodded. "That's why you'll change some things in your life and get her back."
Dee Collins had her arms around Angela, a cloth wrapped around the girl's bleeding hand. The DCF worker was trying unsuccessfully to hush the crying infant.
I went up and said to her, "That baby gets placed somewhere nearby with daily visitation rights. And by the way, I didn't see anything going on here that was worth putting on file.... You?" The caseworker gave me a disgruntled look and turned away.
Suddenly, my beeper sounded, three dissonant beeps punctuating the tense air. I pulled it out and read the number. Jacobi, my ex-partner in Homicide. What did he want?
I excused myself and moved into the staff office. I was able to reach him in his car.
"Something bad's happened, Lindsay," he said glumly. "I thought you'd want to know."
He clued me in about a horrible drive-by shooting at the La Salle Heights Church. An eleven-year-old girl had been killed.
"Jesus..." I sighed as my heart sank. "I thought you might want in on it," Jacobi said.
I took in a breath. It had been over three months since I'd been on the scene at a homicide. Not since the day the bride and groom case ended.
"So, I didn't hear," Jacobi pressed. "You want in, Lieutenant?" It was the first time he had called me by my new rank.
I realized my honeymoon had come to an end. "Yeah," I muttered. "I want in."