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Then the kid in the trench coat took one step closer to the grave. Socia was a millisecond behind him, taking two steps to compensate. Trench Coat took the challenge and they reached the edge of the grave simultaneously, their bearings interchangeable, heads straight and immobile.

Devin said, “Calm. Everyone. Calm,” in a whisper.

Trench Coat bent, a stiff squat, and picked up a white lily from a small pile by his feet. Socia did the same. They looked at each other as they extended their arms over the grave. The white lilies never quivered. They held their arms straight out, neither dropping his lily. A test whose limit only they knew. I didn’t see which of them opened his hand first but suddenly the lilies fell toward the grave in nearly weightless surrender.

Each took two steps back from the grave.

Now it was the gangs’ turn. They mimicked what Socia or Trench Coat had done, depending on their affiliation. By the time the line had dwindled to the lowest level members of each group, though, they were picking up the lilies and dropping them into the blackness in record time, barely taking a few precious moments to stare into each other’s eyes and show how unafraid they were. I heard the cops behind me begin breathing again.

Socia had moved to the foot of the grave, hands folded together, staring at nothing. Trench Coat stood near the head, hand on his umbrella, eyes on Socia.

I said to Devin, “OK to talk now?”

He shrugged. “Sure.”

Angie said, “The hell’s going on here, Devin?”

Devin smiled. His face was only slightly colder to look at than the black hole everyone was dropping lilies into.

“What’s going on,” he said, “is the beginning of the biggest bloodfest this city’s ever seen. It’ll make the Coconut Grove fire seem like a trip to EPCOT.”

A block of ice the size of a baseball nestled against the base of my spine and chilled sweat slid past my ear. I turned my head and my eyes passed over the grave and locked with Socia’s. He was completely still, his eyes looking directly at me as if I weren’t there. I said, “He doesn’t seem too friendly.”

Devin said, “You amputated the foot of his favorite lieutenant. I’d say he’s downright livid.”

“Enough to kill me?” It wasn’t easy, but I continued to meet that sullen gaze that told me I’d already ceased to exist.

“Oh, without a doubt,” Devin said.

That’s Devin for you. All heart.

“What’s my move?” I asked.

“A plane ticket to Tangiers would be my suggestion. He’ll still get to you but at least you could say you’d seen the world.” He scuffed the thick, stubby grass in front of him. “Word on the street, though, is he wants to talk with you first. Seems to think you got something he needs.” He raised his foot, used his hand to brush the grass off his shoe. “Now, what could that be, Patrick?”

I shrugged. Those eyes never left me. I’ve seen frozen ponds with more empathy. I said, “The man’s deluded.”

“No argument there. Hell of a good shot though. I hear he likes to pull the trigger a lot, hit his victims in superficial places. You know, take his time. Give them the head shot about a half hour after they start begging for it. A real humanitarian, our Socia.” He crossed his hands in front of him, cracked the knuckles. “So, why does he think you have something he needs, Patrick?”

Angie squeezed my hand and slipped her other hand under my arm. It felt warm and slightly bittersweet. She said, “Who’s the guy with the umbrella?”

Devin said, “I thought you two were detectives.”

Trench Coat had turned now, too. He was following Socia’s gaze, his eyes landing on me as well. I felt like a minnow in a shark tank.

Angie said, “No, Devin, we’re still studying. So, tell us  who’s the guy with the umbrella?”

He cracked his knuckles again, sighed with the ease of a man drinking a beer in a hammock. “That’s Jenna’s son.”

I said, “Jenna’s son.”

“Did I stutter? Jenna’s son. He runs the Angel Avengers.”

Angel Avenue runs through the heart of Black Dorchester. It’s not a place where you stop at red lights. Even in broad daylight.

“He got a hard-on for me, too?”

“Not as far as I know,” he said.

Angie said, “Is Socia his father?”

Devin looked at the two of them, then the two of us. He nodded. “But I think it was the mother who named him Roland.”

EIGHTEEN

“One angry child, our Roland,” Devin was saying.

I sipped some coffee. “He didn’t look much like a child to me,” I said.

Devin swallowed a hunk of doughnut, reached for his coffee. “He’s sixteen years old.”

Angie said, “Sixteen?”

“Just turned sixteen,” Devin said, “last month.”

I thought of what I’d seen of him a tall, muscular body, the bearing of a young general, standing on the small knoll above his mother’s grave, umbrella in hand. He looked like he already knew his place in this world at the forefront, with his minions behind him.

When I was sixteen, I barely knew my place in the school lunch line. I said, “How’s a sixteen-year-old boy run a network like the Avengers?”

“With a big gun,” Devin said. He looked at me, shrugged. “He’s a pretty smart boy, Roland is. He’s got balls the size of truck radiais, too. A good thing to have if you want to run a gang.”

“And Socia?” Angie asked.

“Well, I’ll tell you something about Roland and his daddy, Marion. They say the only natural force in this city that’s possibly more dangerous than Roland is his daddy. And believe me, I’ve sat in a cold interrogation room with Marion for seven hours: the man has a cavity where his heart should be.”

“And he and Roland are about to go head to head?”

“Seems to be the case,” Devin said. “They ain’t Ward and the Beav’, that’s for sure. Take my word, Roland’s not walking around breathing because of any help from his old man. Socia was born without paternal instincts. The Avengers used to be a sort of brother gang to the Saints. But Roland changed all that about three months ago, broke away from his old man’s organization. Socia’s tried to hit Roland at least four times that we know of, but the kid doesn’t die. A lot of bodies been showing up in Mattapan and the ‘Bury the last few months, but none of them has been Roland.”

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