Chain reaction, p.31
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       Chain Reaction, p.31

         Part #3 of Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles
Page 31


  I look into his eyes and all I see is sincerity. No deceit. “You better not be selling drugs, or we’re through. ”

  “I won’t sell drugs,” he says. “I promise. ”



  Boxcar Alley is in the crappiest neighborhood in the western suburbs of Chicago. The houses are set behind the backdrop of a boxcar graveyard, ripe for dirty drug deals and homeless crackheads.

  Without time to spare, I take the gun from my closet and drive back to Enrique’s. He’ll give me advice without blabbing to the rest of my family. He’s kept to the Latino Blood’s Code of Silence even when other guys blew it off.

  I told Nikki I wouldn’t do drug deals. I hate lying to her. If doing drug deals are a way to gain Chuy’s trust and protect my family, what choice do I have? I don’t want to do Chuy’s dirty work any more than she wants me to, but I have to. I was being honest when I said I wasn’t a Latino Blood. While Chuy might consider me one, I’m not. I’m just playing his game so I can find out what the LB has planned. I’ve got to be strategic or this isn’t gonna work.

  Enrique looks at me from across his desk. “Damn, cuz. Boxcar Alley’s a rough place to be. That’s enemy territory. ”

  “Marco’s goin’ with me,” I tell him. “For backup. ”

  “Want me to go with you? Problem is they know me, and if a couple of Fremont 5 OGs catch sight of me, it’s gonna get rough. ”

  “I don’t need them retaliatin’ against this place, or you. ”

  “All right. You just watch your back at all times, Luis. Take my Mustang. At least you’ll have a chance to get away if the Fremont 5 pendejos start trouble. Most of their young bucks got shitty aim. ” He pats the back of my shirt. “You strapped?”

  I nod. “You and I both know I ain’t gonna use it. ”

  “Don’t accidentally shoot yourself. ” He looks me straight in the eye and says, “If it’s you or them, let it be them. ”

  I meet Marco at the warehouse. We speed all the way to Boxcar Alley, through towns that are worse off than mine. I slipped on a black hoodie and sunglasses, so hopefully nobody will notice that I don’t belong in this ’hood.

  Marco’s obviously been here before, because after we park he says to follow him. We pass a liquor store with a drunk out front talking to himself. Guys walking down the street heading toward us are definitely out looking for some action or a fight. We duck into a drugstore and stay out of their line of vision until they pass. I’m confident we could make a good showing in a fight against three or four guys, but when it comes to ten against two, I wouldn’t bet on us.

  We weave through the streets behind the boxcars. I only lift my head when I have to. Marco struts right up to the house as if he collects in F5 territory every day.

  “Don’t you want to check the place out first?” I ask him. “Or have a plan?”

  Marco waves his hand, dismissing my concern. “Nah, it’s cool. ”

  A guy answers the door. “What do you want?” he asks roughly.

  “Money. And if you don’t give it to us, today will be your biggest fuckin’ nightmare,” Marco barks through gritted teeth. His eyes are open wide, like he’s one crazy motherfucker. I think it’s just an act until Marco pulls out a gun and points it right at the guy’s head. “Give up five Gs or get your head blown off. Which is it?”

  “Yo, Marco,” I say. “Cool it, would ya?”

  “It’s cool. Stay out here and keep watch. Don’t let anyone in the house. ”

  The guy holds his hands up and backs into the house as Marco walks inside. I don’t know what the hell to do. Marco is obviously on a power trip. Shit. If he starts shootin’ people … I start thinking of my life behind bars.

  This wasn’t supposed to be how it went down. I was supposed to come back to Fairfield, graduate, go to college, then apply to NASA’s space program—the chain of events on the timeline of my life. I had every aspect of my life perfectly planned out.

  As it looks now, the only place I deserve to go is jail. I look up at the darkened sky. I’m about to lose everything … including Nikki.

  A few minutes later, when I’m about to knock on the door and tell Marco I’m done with Chuy’s bullshit orders, he steps out.

  “Did you get the cash?” I ask him.

  “Yeah. ”

  “So it’s all cool?”

  “Umm … I think we should bounce, like fast. ”

  We hurry through the maze that’s Boxcar Alley. I look back and realize a bunch of guys are on our tail. They’re waving guns, and we’re trying to lose them in the overcrowded graveyard of old railroad cars.

  It’s not working.

  We duck behind one of the boxcars. Marco peeks his head out, and a bullet flies past his head.

  “We need to get out of here. We’re screwed if we stay in one place,” he says.

  I’ve never been in a shootout, but I’ve witnessed them. I pull out my gun, but keep it at my side, partially hidden. Marco does the same.

  “Our car is right there. See it?” I say, my adrenaline pumping at full speed.

  He nods.

  “We’re gonna run toward it, and drive away without lookin’ back,” I tell him.

  “Got it. ”

  “If they shoot, start unloadin’ at the rail cars to scare ’em. Hopefully they’ll take cover at least until we can get to the car. ”

  There’s no time to strategize a plan B, because the guys are about to surround us. If we don’t move now, we’re fucked.

  “Now!” I yell, and we both book it toward Enrique’s Mustang.

  My pulse races as a shot rings out. Then another. And another. I jump into the car and look over at Marco. He sticks his gun out of the front window and unloads the chamber as I start the car.

  I screech away, knowing that we barely made it out alive.

  “Put the guns in the glove compartment,” I tell him, handing mine over to him. I check the rearview mirror for cops, but don’t see any.

  The sound of our heavy breathing fills the car.

  “That was close,” Marco says, leaning his head back on the seat. A second later he says, “Holy shit. Luis?”


  “Dude, you got shot. ”

  I look over at my bicep. Blood is rushing down my arm and staining the seat of the car, so I strip my hoodie off and tell Marco to tie the sleeve around my arm. “I’m fine,” I tell him. “It’s a scratch. ”

  “Scratches don’t gush blood, Luis. You sure you’re okay?”

  I can just imagine miamá’s face when she sees I’m bleeding. “I’ll go to Enrique’s and spend the night. He’ll know what to do. ”

  “You’re lucky you made it out alive,” Enrique says when I show up to his place a half hour later. “Your arm …”

  “I kinda ran into a Fremont 5 bullet,” I tell him.

  He nods. “Your ma is gonna shit twice, then she’s gonna kill you. Chuy’s one sonofabitch, sendin’ you kids into F5 territory. ”

  “Tell me about it. ”

  I take a shower in Enrique’s apartment above the garage. The bullet exited but left a two-inch gash, and now that I’m sitting down looking at the fleshy wound, it hurts like a bitch. It won’t be hard to hide, even with a bandage. I’ll just wear a hoodie and long-sleeve shirts until it heals.

  “Where did Marco run off to?” Enrique asks me after he closes up the garage and meets me in the apartment.

  “The warehouse. ” I put on a shirt Enrique lends me after he calls miamá and tells her I’ll be bunking at his place tonight. “What do you know about me bein’ blessed in?” I ask my cousin as he takes a beer out of his fridge.

  “I don’t know anythin’ about that,” he says as he gives me an intense stare. “And if I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell ya. ¿Comprende?”

  He knows something. I nod. It’s no use trying to get any info out of him. If he was sworn to secrecy, he’ll go to the grave wit
h it.

  The Latino Blood Code of Silence.

  It’s one code I haven’t broken yet, but intend to crack sooner rather than later.



  Two weeks after Luis promises me that he’s not in the LB, it’s his eighteenth birthday. I know my parents are at some dinner party in the city, and my brother is at some gaming tournament in Wisconsin, so I invite Luis over for a private birthday dinner.

  I’m not a chef, but I do know how to follow a recipe. I got a Mexican cookbook from the bookstore. We don’t have authentic Mexican food often, and most of the recipes are foreign to me. Other than breakfast, my parents usually order takeout or eat at Brickstone. If Mom does cook, it’s pretty much a simple pasta dish or something from the meat market specially prepackaged and marinated so all we have to do is throw the stuff in the oven.

  Luis arrives at six, right on time, with a bunch of yellow daffodils in his hand. The stems are wrapped together with a big yellow ribbon. “Hey,” he says.

  “Hey,” I say back.

  He scans my skinny black dress that hugs every one of my curves. “Damn, Nik. You look amazin’. ” He looks down at his jeans and cringes. “Sorry I didn’t get more dressed up. ”

  “I don’t need you dressed up. You look like a stud just the way you are. ” I take the flowers. “You didn’t have to bring me flowers. It’s your birthday, not mine. ”

  “I wanted to bring you somethin’,” he says. When I put the flowers to my nose to smell them, Luis looks nervous. “I didn’t know if you’d like ’em. Carlos told me to bring you red roses, but I thought you’d like yellow. They remind me of you. They brighten a room … just like you. ”

  I reach out and touch the stubble on his face, wondering how I ever thought he was the least bit similar to Marco. His tender gaze pierces my heart. “I love them. Come on in. I made you dinner,” I say proudly.

  “What’s that?” he asks as his eyes settle on the wrapped box I set on the table.

  “Your birthday present. ”

  “You didn’t have to get me anythin’. ”

  “I know. I wanted to. Go on, open it. ” When he does, I hold my breath.

  He pulls out what looks like a twisted black iron rock, but I know it’s not just a rock. He rolls it around in his hand, studying it. Does he know what it is? Hopefully he doesn’t think it’s a cheap paperweight.

  “It’s a meteorite,” I explain quickly. “From Argentina. Inside the box are the authentication papers, explaining where and how it was found. ”

  He looks at me over the meteorite with a stunned expression on his face. “I know what it is. I’ve seen them in museums. And in books. But I’ve never held one. Or owned one. ” He examines all sides in awe, feeling each curve and crevice with his fingertips. “I can’t believe this was in space. It’s so cool … surreal. ”

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