Excerpt: 'Cathy's Ring'

"Listen, Cathy, you got to get him to head back to Texas. If he don't get back, the you-know-what's gonna hit the fan with his probation officer." "Loyalty's a big thing with your brother, Jewel. He's not going to leave you here."

"I know it. That's why you're going to tell him you talked to me and I was already back home." Rap music pounded and thumped from Jewel's end of the phone.

"So, you're calling from a church," I said.

"He can tell when I'm lying but he's sweet on you. He doesn't know any better."

"Jewel—"

"Hey," she said sharply. "You drug my brother into this mess, Cathy. You get him out. Do it first thing tomorrow," she added. "I want to make sure he gets the message before Ancestor Lu's people take you out." Then she hung up.

It took me quite a while to get to sleep.

Scissors (Hour of Someone Coming to Kill Me)

I woke up with a gasp, terrified, staring into the darkness of my bedroom. My heart was pounding and I was listening for something, awake and electric, as if my whole skin was waiting for a sound. The clock on my bedside table said 4:13 AM.

There!

I heard it again, something gnawing at my bedroom window. Someone was working around the frame with pliers or a screwdriver. Trying to get in. Someone was coming for me, just like Jewel had said they would. I needed help. I was alone in the darkness, and nobody would hear me scream. Ever since my dad "died" there had only been two of us in the house, my mom and me, and my mom was at the hospital working the graveyard shift. My cell phone was still lying on the dresser where I left it after Jewel hung up on me. If I grabbed it and called 9-1-1 I figured the cops would show up in time to find my dead body. If everything went well, they'd even catch my killer and put him in jail, where he would come to see the error of his ways and take up crosswords or knitting, and be featured years later in a documentary about cons who had rediscovered their humanity in prison, and finally be released on parole and start a modestly successful store selling fashionable knitwear with a jailhouse swagger—but that would be cold comfort to me, wouldn't it? Because I'd be dead. I would be dead and my mom would come out to the cemetery every six months and stare bitterly at two graves instead of one.

Scritch, scratch. Scritch-scritch, scratch. The soft complaining creak of the metal window frame being quietly pried open. Then:

• soft thumping footsteps outside, someone running up, and • muffled sounds of a struggle, and

• the damp smack of something hard clubbing into flesh • a gasp, and

• people grappling outside my window in murderous silence, and • a snap of bone breaking

• the faint ring and slash of metal, and

• a spatter, like raindrops hitting my window.

I threw myself out of bed and scrambled across the floor on my hands and knees, waiting for the window behind me to explode in a fountain of glass—waiting for bullet holes to open in my back. I scuttled around the corner into the hallway.

• A heavy grunting thump, and

• bodies thudding into the side of the house.

Once out of the line of fire from the bedroom window, I got to my feet, a clumsy low crouch. I started to slap on the hallway light switch but stopped because turning on the light would just make me easier to shoot. The fact that I knew the house in the dark was the only edge I had over whoever was trying to get in.

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