“Run Trent!” their fast-running footfalls splashed through the puddles left by the melting snow and the freezing wind blew against their faces leaving a stinging numb sensation in its wake. Gabby’s arms were pumping at her sides with her legs and she could hear Trent just behind her. She tried shouting over her shoulder to him, but the clattering noise of the train overhead drowned out her words so she gave up and headed into the derelict area of the city where she knew they could find a place to hide.
Skidding on the slick ground she found the break in the chain link fence surrounding vandalized and unused warehouses and grabbed onto the pole to stop herself from falling and barrelled through the gap. Looking back over her shoulder she saw the big black car with the men in it that had followed Trent to her plant nursery and began shooting up the place. Gabby had no alternative but to run or die. They were gunning it down the pot holed road and Trent jumped through the gap and picked up the pace behind her.
As they reached the first derelict and abandoned warehouse she heard car doors slamming and knew they were in trouble if the men with the guns followed them. Grabbing Trent by the back of his jacket she pushed him into the nearest open door. She saw that it had been some sort of machine shop with massive overhead pulleys and chains. It looked like an abandoned service area for trucks and she looked around her. It didn’t take long for her to find what she was looking for and she ran forward with Trent and bent down and opened a grease trap, pushed him in and jumped in after him, and pulled the grate closed above them. The smell was overpowering and she didn’t want to know what she was crushing beneath her boots. She pushed Trent against the side of the stinking trap wall and held her gloved hand over his mouth and pulled his black hoodie up over his head.
She tasted blood in her mouth and couldn’t remember if she had been injured in some way or just bit her lip from fear because as the bullets started flying she had grabbed Trent and dragged him across the floor and out the back door. Her anger at having her beautiful plants shot up burned like bile in her throat and she shook with the fierceness she felt at protecting what she had inherited from her grandma.
She heard boots running over wet ground and then into the old warehouse and she closed her eyes and held very still. Her heart beating so hard she could swear everyone heard it. Her blood pulsing through her ears almost deafened her, but still, she remained deadly quiet and controlled her breathing as best she could.
To her, it sounded like three or four people in the warehouse and she knew if they found them, they would never stand a chance against grown men with guns. She was furious with Trent for coming into her shop and bringing his troubles with him. He had always found a way to piss somebody off and she was tired of dragging his skinny ass out of the trouble he would ultimately get himself into.
“Where the fuck’d they go?” a voice called from nearby the grate.
“There are so many places they could go.” Said another voice that was nearby.
Their footfalls could be heard over their panting as they regrouped and began searching the warehouse. Gabby could hear them knocking metal cans over and kicking things out of the way. “Who was the skinny white bitch with him? Think she knows about our business?” the first voice spoke up again and right afterward it sounded like a slap and someone talking deeply, “Wanna tell the whole fuckin’ world, you idiot?”
“The white girl owns that place we shot up. Word on the street is she sells plants, and not just any plants either.” This was a new voice, but Gabby recognized it and tried to remember where she had heard it before.
“What? She sellin’ dope on our turf?” asked the first voice trying to sound real gangster and Gabby rolled her eyes and shook her head. Idiots, she thought, that’s not a life, it’s a death sentence!
“Nah, man. She sells special kinds of herbs an’ plants, man. My gran’ma buys shit from her every now an’ then.” This from the voice she recognized. His grandma bought from the shop, she thought and tried really hard to think on the voice while her jittery, jangled nerves vibrated just beneath the surface of her attempted calm.
“You talkin’ ‘bout homeboy? Like stuff for poisons, potions an’ spells an’ shit like that?” asked voice number one.
“I ain’t sure ‘bout it. Ask my gran’ma.” It was then Gabby recognized the voice. It was a young boy named Kevin whose grandma, Alice, bought from her. She was an old woman who claimed that she was a witch and she regularly practiced witchcraft. Gabby’s grandmother, Glinda, had also been a practicing witch and had taught her all she knew about plants, herbs, and roots. Gabby had her grandmothers’ grimoire at home locked away in a box beneath the wooden planks of the floor. To Gabby her grandmother had simply been an amazing botanist and herbalist. Twenty first century or not, there were still people out there wanting to lynch a witch, so these women had kept their abilities very quiet..
The yelling brought her out of her reverie with a jerk. “I don’ give a fuck ‘bout yo’ gran’ma boy! I want that little shit, Trent. Go back to his school an’ ask his buddies where he’s at an’ where he hangs. Go! Now!” Gabby felt sorry for Kevin because she remembered him as a soft-spoken quiet boy and she shook her head wondering how it happened that good kids got wrapped up in this gangster bullshit.
She was only sixteen herself but had been looking after herself and her grandmother, who had passed away six months ago, for the last three years. She had dropped out of school and had begun running the store, Her grandmother could not do it anymore and they needed the income, no matter how small. The medical insurance had covered her grandmothers’ medication, but it would not cover a frail care facility for her. Gabby had lost count of the number of times she had been called to collect her grandmother from some or other place, street corner, or corner superette. Fortunately, there were still some very kind people in the neighborhood and they had brought the old woman to the nursery. Gabby would have to treat her like a child and make her sit in the chair and promise not to move or create a disturbance. In her moments of lucidity, she would recall spells and rituals and then cry and tell Gabby how awful it was living in a body where the brain refused to operate anymore. Then, within minutes, she was lost again. It had been heartbreaking to watch.
On a particularly cold afternoon the old woman had left their warm house without a sweater and wearing only bath slippers, she had decided to go for a walk and got herself lost. She had caught a nasty cold which had turned into bronchitis and then pneumonia.
Gabby had called for the ambulance when her grandmothers’ temperature had spiked. She got taken to the hospital’s IC Unit immediately, but the old woman was too frail to fight the infection. It was the roughest four days for Gabby, and then her grandmother died. Gabby remembered closing up the store for the night and she had walked over to the hospital because it was cheaper to walk than take the bus. By the time she had got there her grandmothers’ body was being wheeled from the room. Gabby had felt guilty over the relief she felt after the initial shock, but she realized it had not been relief just for her, but for her grandmother as well.
She had her quietly cremated and held a small get-together in her memory with the Bingo club and knitting club folks and a few of the neighborhood friends who remembered Glinda from when she had moved into the neighborhood as a young married woman so many years before.
A loud banging of a door brought Gabby back to the present and she kept her eyes closed but her ears wide open. When she had heard nothing for a full ten minutes she released Trent and stood on the first rung of the built-in ladder and peered up and out as far as she could. Gently and as quietly as she could she pushed the grate up and then held it above her head as she climbed up the ladder. She then held it up for Trent as he clambered out of the grease trap and she closed it down quietly again.
Standing up she grabbed Trent by the front of his jacket and pushed him hard up against an empty tool cabinet not caring whether she hurt him or not. “What the hell have you done Trent? Those crazy bastards just blew the shit out of my store and that is the only income that I have. I hate you right now!” she did not yell, but she spoke deadly quietly and her eyes flashed brightly.
Trent tried to pull her hands away, but couldn’t. She was much stronger than him. Instead, he said, “I’m sorry Gabby. I didn’t know where else to go. Those crazy ass fools just wanted to kill me.”
“You have said a lot, but said nothing at all. Get me, Trent? You tell me now!” She pulled her fist back ready to blacken his eye and he held his hands up in front of his face.
“No! Wait, please Gabby.” His voice shook and she heard the fear. “My brother asked me to hold onto a package for him an’ I did, but then when I was leaving school I got jumped an’ they took the package. I don’t know how they knew I had the package, but they just did. When I called my brother an’ told him what happened all he said to me was, ‘Run’. I got about ten steps from the school when those fools began chasing me, so I ran.” She pushed him away from her and began to walk away, slipping slightly because of the residue of oil on her boots.
Turning back around to him she pointed her little finger at him and said, “You kept a parcel for Darnell and didn’t think to ask what was in it? I know you, Trent, what was in the parcel?” As he opened his mouth she held up her hand, “And don’t lie to me because if I find out you lied to me I will throw you a beating, unlike anything you have ever had in your life! Now, speak.”
Scratching his head through his wool cap beneath the hoodie he struggled with what he was going to tell her, but eventually, he said, “It was photos of a cop taking a bribe. It was a plain clothes cop and his badge was clear on his belt and he was taking money from that fancy guy who’s been buying up the old buildings next to and behind the community college.” He shrugged his shoulders and lifted his hands palms up.
Gabby frowned as she remembered being approached by a suit. He had wanted to buy out her store and lease as she was in a ‘soon to be prolific spot’, is what the suit had said. She had told him in no uncertain terms to take his pick and go fly a kite or jump off a bridge, whichever was quicker. Looking at Trent she narrowed her eyes and stepped closer to him. “So, Darnell had these pictures and he asked you to hold them? Is that right? And then you got jumped and they were stolen from you? Am I right?” Trent nodded and she walked in circles thinking about what to do. She had to go back to her store and clean up and try to salvage what she could, but she had just one more question for Trent. “How did the guys that jumped you and the ones that shot at you know that you were holding the package?” He shrugged and she narrowed her eyes at him. She didn’t want to speak out loud what she was thinking, but the only obvious thought was that Darnell had said something. Darnell was a weak person, but he talked all gangster, though when the shit got real he was the first to squeal. She would find him soon enough, though.
Taking a quick look out of the building she saw the coast was clear and showed Trent a different way back to his street. As soon as he got close to his foster parents’ home he ran down alleyways and Gabby headed to her store.
Unsurprising there was a cop car out front and as she stepped through the shattered door she saw that the damage was not so bad that she couldn’t fix it, but the stupid flatfoot was standing on some of the plants and she yelled at him. “Hey! Show a bit of respect for something that is not yours, mister!” and she pushed him out of the way and began picking up plants.
“Hey, Gabby, what’s going on here? Gaia’s Garden is looking a bit tatty.” she looked up and saw a face she had not seen in what felt like a lifetime.
“Move your big chunky feet off my plants, Bobby.” She said as she grabbed a broom from behind the counter and began sweeping up the mess.
“Wanna tell me what happened here, kid?” Gabby had known Bobby Angel nearly all her life. He was a few years older, but that is not what made him irritating. He was one of those people who whatever he did, he did it well and that included making a damned mess of things too. Now that he was a cop he acted like he was a know-it-all, but in truth, his reason for being all over the neighborhood and working so hard was that he wanted to become a detective. Word was he had quit college and said he wanted to tidy up the ’hood, so he went out and became a cop to work hard and get what he wanted. He cleared his throat and Gabby looked up at him.
“Oh, you’re still here.” And she looked back down and continued sweeping.
“Yeah, and you have more piercings and your hair is spikier just like your demeanor. C’mon Gabs, what happened here? You have got blood running down your face from your hairline, just by the way.” She bristled at his familiarity with her and his jibe at her having a prickly demeanor and she quickly looked in the one piece of the mirror that was not broken and saw where the blood was coming from. “Shit.” She muttered as she used her sleeve to wipe her face.
“I don’t know why my store was shot up, Bobby. Maybe go ask the idiots running around shooting up this neighborhood. As for my head, I slipped on the way here to see what had happened.” She rolled her eyes at him and he sighed and pursed his lips.
“I’m trying to help you here, Gabby. The team is going to be here any minute and they will want to pull slugs out of walls and plants and then the big boys will take you downtown and question you.” He shrugged his shoulders and tried to look as though he was bored.
“Take me downtown? Me?” she glared at him from under her eyebrows, “Like I’m going to shoot up my own place? For what? The insurance?” and she laughed harshly, “Oh that’s right, I don’t have insurance Bobby, and don’t you think that if I was here I would be leaking blood from a couple of holes?” She knew she wasn’t being honest, but continued to sweep the mess into a pan and then threw it all into a clean bin bag and handed it to him, “Here. Give this to your team. Besides, the shell casings will be outside and that is where you will get the fingerprints, right?”
Bobby looked at the packet in his hand and then back at her and shook his head. “I just want to help, Gabby.”
“Really?” she asked angrily, “Then keep thugs out of schools, stop innocent business owners from getting held up and robbed and possibly losing their lives. Stop kids growing up without parents or big brothers. Clamp down on the drug problem that’s crept into this neighborhood and find the instigators of the gang wars. See? There are lots of things for you to do. Go and do it and leave me to pick up the pieces of my life in peace.” She was about to turn around when she remembered something, “Oh, yeah, I do have a question for you though. Your investigators and detectives wear their shields on a chain around their neck right?”
“Sure Gabby, what of it?” he took a deep breath and tilted his head at her.
“So, who are the ones that wear their badges over their belts?” he cocked his head and frowned, and looked at her for a while.
“Those are generally where the office brass put their badges. The working guys lose them when they hook them over their belts, hence the neck chains. Why are you asking me this?” he frowned and looked down his nose at her with narrowed blue-green eyes that she had found so alluring at one time in her young life.
Shrugging her shoulders and giving him a sideways smirk she said, “Just asking, but thanks anyway.”
“You don’t ever ‘just’ ask a question Gabby. C’mon out with it. What’s on your mind?” he sounded as though he was being reasonable and kind, but Gabby was done talking.
“Leave me to clean my place, please Bobby.” She turned her back on him and continued to tidy and place pots and plants back where they belonged.
She never saw old Mister Finkelstein from the bakery up the road walk in, but Bobby greeted him and she turned around. The sweet old man had brought her clapboard to board up her windows and door and she smiled at him gratefully, He walked over to her and gave her a great big hug. “Och, what a mishiva! Missus Finkelstein sent me over to give you a hand with the boarding up of the windows. We all know that the five-oh will not make it until two weeks go by.” He looked at Bobby with a sour expression and waved him out of the door. “You may go now. We take care of each other down here.”
Bobby looked crest fallen and he frowned at the old man and said, “Mister Finkelstein, you don’t remember me? It’s Bobby, Bobby Angel.”
Gasping and staring at Bobby the old man pushed his glasses back up onto the bridge of his nose, “My word! So it is! Hah! They allowing just anyone to become a member of the police force now? Ai, what is this world coming to?” and he threw his hands in the air, turned and walked into the store leaving Bobby staring after him.
Shaking his head Bobby turned back around and climbed back into his police car and left. Gabby smiled at the old man and the two of them began cleaning in earnest. Gabby never understood why her grandmother never liked the old Jewish couple very much. She never treated them badly, she was just never overly friendly. When Gabby had asked her about it her grandma had simply said, “I trust my hair and when it stands up, I take notice. When those two are around my hair hurts it stands up so straight!” Gabby had laughed at her grandmother and left it at that because, to her, the old couple was simply the sweetest in the neighborhood.
“Why did they shoot up your store, Gabriella?” Mister Finkelstein was the only person, apart from her late grandmother, who ever called her by her given name.
“Trent.” Was all she said and the old man rubbed his hand over his face with the all too familiar phrase of ’Oi vey’.
“Who did the boy offend this time?” he asked as they hefted the board and placed it over the front window.
“I’m not exactly sure, but you know Alice? She is a regular and she and my grandma used to share secrets over a cup of their special tea.” Thank god for the nail gun, she thought as they began shooting nails into the corners of the board and the window frame.
“Yes, I know Alice. Lovely woman.” He said absently as he concentrated on lining up the nail gun.
“Yeah, well her grandson Kevin was with the group who made this mess and I can’t for the life of me figure how such a good kid gets caught up in shit like this. I recognized his voice when Trent and I were hiding in a grease trap in one of the old warehouses a few blocks down.” Gabby put the lights on inside the store because the board now blocked out the light.
Removing the nail cartridge from the nail gun, for safety, Mister Finkelstein frowned and leaned on the counter. “So, Trent came here and they followed. They shot up the place and you saved the little beggar and now by helping him you become his accomplice by association.” Gabby stood up and stared at him with big eyes. He watched her as she had all of this running through her mind and the responsibility of sorting out her little store. He thought of how she always wanted to help the underdog and downtrodden, but sometimes by helping she became the enemy. But Gabby was a tough young girl who had taken on way too much responsibility at a very young age and he wondered if she had ever really done fun, teenage things. Probably not, he decided.
“I never really thought of it that way, but the kid needs a role model. His brother Darnell is about as useful as a bunny in a bar fight.” She watched Mister Finkelstein smile at her turn of phrase, but she was serious. “Darnell asked Trent to hold onto a package for him and he did it. For his brother. But today when he left school he got jumped and the package got stolen from him and they guessed he’d peeked in the package, so instead of sticking around for a beating and answering questions he kicked it.” Indicating the store she said, “And the rest is history.”
Shaking his head he looked sadly around the store, “So, you have no idea what was in this package and Trent never told you, yes? Did you tell Bobby any of this?”
“Nope. He’s a beat cop, what’s he going to do?” she asked sourly and frowned, wondering why the old man was asking so many questions as she boarded up the door and put the chains and locks in place. She finally attributed his questions to his concern for their neighborhood, their businesses, and maybe for her.
“Let’s head out the back. I will set the alarm and lock that side.” They headed out and Gabby set the alarm, locked the three locks on the back door, and then pulled the single roller door down and placed the locks through their hooks.
Sighing she linked her arm through Mister Finkelstein’s and they walked down the narrow alley Gabby had run down only hours before. Together they walked around to the front and Gabby pulled down that larger roller door and locked it with padlocks and chains. She would have to do a cleansing ritual in the store to try and restore some balance to the place. There were just some things that were ingrained.
“You are welcome to come over for dinner tonight, my dear. Missus Finkelstein is trying a new Thai stir fry recipe.” He rolled his eyes and patted his round belly and said with a smile, “I don’t know if my stomach will handle it, but I eat anything she makes.”
“Thanks, Mister Finkelstein, but I will have to go scratching through my files for the insurance papers and send them an email. I have not claimed since we had that flood two years ago, so I think I should be good to go without having to pay an excess.” She released his arm as they got to the door of his bakery.
He and his wife had moved into the flat above the bakery many years ago when their children had grown up and married and moved away. They appeared to be very happy there and Gabby could not ever remember hearing a complaint from them. They were always smiling and kind to everyone they knew.
She thanked him again for his kindness and kissed his cheek and waited until he was inside and locked the bakery door before she left and walked the few blocks to her house. Her house, she thought. It still sounded strange in her ears and at the age of sixteen, nearly seventeen, she had to now be responsible for the place. Fair enough, she had been doing the payment of the bills for the last four years, but now that it was solely hers, it felt a little heavier on her shoulders.
Her house was one of many that lined both sides of the street. Some had front porches, and some like hers, had their porches closed in. One or two had cars standing outside as the people who lived in her street would rather spend their money on food and clothes than a car. The transport system wasn’t too bad, so she understood that kind of thinking.
Her house was on the corner and she and her grandmother had done their best to make what little they had gone a very long way. When Gabby had been twelve her grandmother had asked her if the idea of closing the front porch in with windows was a good idea and Gabby said immediately that it was. Her grandmother had asked her why and she had said that the sun shines directly onto the porch so if it got closed in it would hold the warmth of the sun and their plants would just love it. Her grandmother had liked that idea and when the job had been completed, which had taken three days, she had put up a plaque beside the door leading into the tiny hallway that read Gabby’s Room, and from then on it had been her reading and homework room.
Now she walked up the front stairs and unlocked the porch door and locked it again behind her. She switched on the porch light and admired the beautiful plants that thrived in the room. She then unlocked the front door and stepped into the small hall and looked around her. Hardly anything had changed in the last six months. She removed her boots and set them on the boot rack to the right of the door and then hung up her coat and scarf in the closet on the right. To her left was a small family room and dining room which led into the kitchen, pantry and laundry, and the back door and back porch area.
Dropping the keys into the glass bowl on the table in the hallway she walked slowly up the stairs to her bedroom. The house had three bedrooms and one full bathroom upstairs. There was a guest toilet beneath the stairs that was used as a storage area for mops, brooms, and cleaning products.
Gabby had turned the spare room into an office and she headed there to search for the insurers’ details in one of the files neatly stacked on a shelf above the desk. She opened the laptop and fired it up and within moments she heard a couple of pings that indicated emails. Finding the correct file she sat behind the desk and turned on the desk lamp and searched until she found what she had been looking for. Opening her emails she quickly wrote out an email to the insurers and quoted her insurance number and sent it.
Gabby looked at the other messages in her inbox and one, in particular, caught her eye. It was an advert from an online college. She never knew how the hell they got her email address, but as her gran would say, everything happens for a reason. So, she opened the mail and read about what the online college was offering. She had always wanted to complete her education and then see what it was she wanted to do with her life. She chose horticulture as a hobby, not a life choice. There was virtually nothing she did not know about plants and she loved that she knew so much and was able to advise people who were getting started, but it was just something she knew and did well, thanks to her gran. She wanted to find out what her true calling was and that would come from educating herself.
She filled in the questionnaire and sent it off. It couldn’t hurt, she decided, and forgot about it as she switched off the lamp and walked out of the office to the bathroom where she began running a bath. She threw in her bath oil mixture and a sprinkling of bath salt and lit the lemongrass and ginger candles and incense. Pulling off her clothes she caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. She kept her hair short and spiky and she had a nose piercing as well as several piercings in each ear. Her eyes were dark blue and she had sharp, defined eyebrows that had never seen tweezers. She knew she took after her mother, Isabella, as her grandmother had photographs of her mother in an album and one framed in the living room. The photograph had been taken when her mother was twenty-one years old and holding a tiny Gabby in her arms. Two years later her mother had been killed when a drunk driver slammed into her car when he had run a red light. Gabby never knew who her father was and her grandmother had not known either. Her grandmother had said that her mother had come in from work one day and told her that she was pregnant. When she had asked Isabella about the father she was told he was Irish and did not wish to be involved and that had been the end of it. He had never been mentioned again.
Gabby was of average height and since her grandmother’s passing, she had lost a lot of weight and looked a little malnutritioned. Gabby knew her body would sort itself out soon enough so she didn’t worry overly much. Stripping off her soiled clothing she left them on the floor to toss into the machine when she went downstairs.
After relaxing for a while she had a good scrub to get the stench of the grease trap off her and out of her hair. Her tummy had started grumbling loudly so she toweled herself vigorously and pulled on a pair of sweats and a long-sleeved tee. She slipped her feet into her soft comfy slippers, tidied the bathroom, cleaned the bath, blew out the candles, and then headed downstairs with her clothing. She shoved them into the washer, set the timer, and walked into the kitchen to find something to quickly throw together for dinner.
This was when she missed her gran the most as it had been their ritual to make dinner together. They had both enjoyed cooking and trying new dishes and afterward would sit at the table and talk about their day, but now she had to do it on her own. She decided to make a simple dish of pasta carbonara and scratched through the fridge to find the mushrooms, spring onions, pancetta, cream and parmesan cheese, and two eggs. She decided to make enough for the next two or three nights.
After dinner and tidying the kitchen, storing the left overs in the fridge, she made herself a cup of hot chocolate and went and sat in the living room and turned on the television. Unsurprisingly there was no mention of the shooting in her neighborhood. After a while of flipping through channels she decided to head up to bed and read instead. Checking doors and windows, she headed up and left only the porch lamp on and the hall lamp. As she reached the top stairs there was banging on her front door and she stopped and turned around wondering who it could be. She walked down the stairs and unlocked the front door to peer out and see who it was and frowned when she saw Trent’s face at the window of the outer door. His breath was fogging up the glass he was so out of breath, but the street lights showed him clearly.
Getting ready to give him a mouthful she swung the door open and stepped into Gabby’s Room when she heard screeching tires and an engine revving. It all happened so fast, but at the same time in slow motion. She heard the distinct sound of gun shots and bullets hitting the brick wall below the windows and she saw windows shatter. She reached the door and fumbled with the locks to let Trent in. His body slammed up against the glass and instinctively she dropped to the floor. The glass in the door sprayed inwards and without thinking, she yanked the door open and Trent fell onto her. Grabbing him she hauled him inside and kicked the broken door closed as the dark vehicle sped off.
Gabby held the boy in her arms and felt him jerking. She rolled him over and saw her hands covered in blood. Looking up at his face she saw his eyes were huge in his head. He tried to speak, but blood bubbled out of his mouth and splattered the front of her tee. She screamed for help and people were already coming out of their houses and running over the street. They were all shocked to see that it was her house that had just been shot up. The Mancini household had always been a peacefully quiet one, but everyone knew that they were always welcome there, so to see it being shot up was a terrible shock.
She held Trent in her arms as he died and her tears mingled with the blood on his face as she screamed and cursed the men who had done this. She did not see men running up the front steps to help her or take over trying to resuscitate Trent. She was blinded by shock and unbelievable rage.