The Second Girl by David Swinson
For my wife, Catherine,
and my daughter, Vivienne
Keep your eyes open to your mercies. The man who forgets to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.
—Robert Louis Stevenson
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
—John 1:5 NIV
I’ve been sitting on the run-down two-story row house on Kenyon Street Northwest off and on for eight days. That’s the longest I’ve had to surveil a location, but it’s worth the effort. I know it’ll be a good hit.
Lord knows I need a good hit.
At least five Salvadoran boys are living in the house on a regular basis; all of them nothing but little big men, aspiring to be hard, slingin’ their shit in the area of 16th and Park. Mostly weed, crack cocaine, and heroin, but they recently got into powder, which is what interests me most. Powder cocaine is getting harder to find nowadays. Crack is still the drug of choice on the street, and of course heroin. Then there’s PCP, but that’s a whole different monster. It made a comeback a few years ago. Kids’re walking around in the open, smoking dippers like they’re regular cigarettes. The Salvadoran boys won’t mess with that shit. But I’ve seen them hanging with someone who will.
I had dealings with Cordell back in the day, when I was on the job and working narcotics. He’s the leader of a crew that controls most of the corners in the Adams Morgan area, and one of that area’s main distributors. Cordell’s crew usually works south of Columbia Road. Park Road is north of Columbia, so when I saw him with the Salvadorans like they were talking business, I figured Cordell was expanding his horizons, maybe got himself into bed with one of the bigger Latino gangs that control Columbia to Park.
I don’t know if the Salvadorans are affiliated with one of those gangs or if they’re just a bunch of orphans who got themselves adopted by the Holm family. Doesn’t matter to me which scenario it is. All I know for sure is that Cordell Holm deals in weight, and that means I have a chance of getting a piece of that today.
Like I’ve done all the other days I’ve been sitting on this spot, I watch them as they make their way out the door, usually by ten hundred hours. They slide into an older model, mostly primed-out, four-door gray Toyota with chromed-out wheels, an oversize metallic-red spoiler, and home-tinted windows. A little El Salvadoran flag, fringed in gold, hangs from the rearview mirror.
They head west, like they always do, toward 16th Street and Park Road. I’ve tailed them enough times to know they’ll park at a spot another Latino kid reserves for them, a young boy, twelve to fourteen years old, just another kid trying to get his foot in the door and working up to something more.
The driver, an older-looking boy who keeps his hair slicked back and shiny, will stay with the car. The other four will split up by twos and cover the area that spans east on Park from 16th to 14th Street.
The boy with the shiny hair takes care of the stash. He keeps it in a crumpled-up Doritos bag, which he drops in the gutter at the rear of their vehicle as if it were trash. He keeps a thick wad of cash rolled up and stuffed in the sock on his left foot.
Another boy, who always wears an oversize Wizards jersey and black Jordan Super Fly sneakers, returns to the car when they’re low on merchandise, usually after a couple of hours. He drives the car back to the house to re-up, then returns it to Shiny.
I should be long gone by the time they need to re-up. But then I know all too well what can happen. Shit, just about anything can happen. Shiny might get lucky and hook up, bring her back to the house on Kenyon. Or maybe it’ll be a busy day and Super Fly’ll need to re-up sooner. You can never predict; you can only prepare. I’m prepared. But I also do my best to eliminate the possibility of an encounter—no more than fifteen minutes inside. You’d be surprised what an experienced person like me can find in fifteen minutes.
These boys have been running free on the streets, as if they own that real estate they’re working. It wouldn’t be difficult for even a mediocre cop to figure out what they’re doing. But I haven’t seen any of them try. Third District’s short on manpower. The whole police department’s short on manpower. All the smart ones are leaving and most of the old-timers are on their way out or already gone. The few that remain are getting themselves pulled from their regular assignments by the chief for one ridiculous thing or another—some detail with a fancy acronym. By the time those officers get off from working that shit, they’re either too tired to work regular or they just don’t give a damn. Hate to say it, ’cause I like most of them, but their fatigue or sloppiness works to my benefit.
I sit on the house for another ten minutes after the Salvadorans pull out.
When it feels right I step out of my Volvo, and slip on my suit coat, and tighten the knot of my tie. I shoulder my nearly empty backpack, which contains only a few items I might need once I get inside—a small Streamlight, a stun gun, a crowbar, a screwdriver, pliers, a box cutter, zip ties, and an extra pair of handcuffs.
I look both ways and cross the street.
It’s about half a block to the house.
I walk like I belong.