Prologue

The ring of gunshots deafened my ears.

Cozsy brought us screeching around the block. His face was ghost white and his lips were pursed. He kept both eyes on the road and both hands gripping on the steering wheel. Yet, his driving was as impeccable as ever—alert, calculating, and smooth. Cozsy was new in the game, but he was the driver because he was born to drive.

Greg was in the front passenger seat, cussing and yelling at the top of his voice between his haphazard shots. He always took care of all our bad-mouthing and repped our crew. Greg was the spirit of our crew.

I was more like Sizzle, the efficient, objective-oriented type. Sizzle never says a needless word, from the moment he loads his gun while holding a cigarette between his lips, to the moment he hops out of the car, unloading his piece and puffing on another cigarette.

"Get down!" Sizzle roared beside me.

The four of us ducked under the windows at Sizzle's command as bullets peppered above us. Cozsy pulled us down the block blindly; his hands continued to guide the wheel calmly.

I held my gun over the window and shot blindly into the street. I listened as I reloaded my piece. When I heard reprisal shots, I peeked out the car with my gun before me.

There it was—that familiar chaos: The horrid screams, the desperate yells, and the scrambling bodies.

Just when it all seemed to end momentarily, all sounds muted.

Time slowed…

There he was—Rems. From behind, he looked just like any other member of his crew, blending into the scrambling crowd; yet, I spotted him. It was my job—I was the eyes because I could see what others couldn't.

So while Cozsy calmly delivered us to our mission, and while Greg and Sizzle indulged in filling the streets with chaos, I was suppose to spot and aim.

Otherwise, what would be the purpose of a drive-by if the target wasn't hit?

I bade my time and waited for that tingle to run through my body, telling my trigger finger it was the precise instant to pull. The moment came when Rems felt my presence, turned to face me with a gun in his hand.

Bam!

His body jerked from the impact of my bullet. I watched as he toppled backwards onto the steps of his front porch, blood spilling from his wound. His gun hit the concrete beside him.

"Go!" I commanded when the mission was completed.

We all sank into our seats with a deep breath, relieved to have cheated death yet another day. Sizzle took two cigarettes from the pack and gave one to me without a word or glance. I accepted and held it to my mouth as he flicked the lighter. Silently, he turned and exhaled gray smokes out the window.

"You got 'im, Ginger?" Greg asked, breaking the silence.

"Yeah." I answered, puffing on the cigarette.

Then it was silent again except for the engine roaring under us.

"You did good Coz…" came Greg's soothing voice.

Cozsy grunted in acknowledgment; both his eyes were still glued on the road and both his hands still gripped tightly on the steering wheel. Greg gently patted him on the shoulder. No one said another word for the rest of the ride.

A shiver sped up my spine as we pulled up to Greg's crib: Tracy ran towards us with an anxious gray face, and Michaels' car was in the drive-way.

"Michaels' here." Tracy spoke in almost a whisper.

I nodded—for there was nothing to do except nod.

"Get in the car." Sizzle spoke in his commanding voice. "Cozsy, get Ginger back to her place 's fast 's you can."

Without hesitation Cozsy hopped back into his driver's seat and turned the engine. Greg pushed me back into the car.

"Sizzle!" I shook off Greg's arms. "He knows—"

"It ain't matter if he can't prove it." Sizzle spoke with his heavy street accents and started shoving me into the car himself. "So, get back t' youse crib and Michaels—"

We all froze in our steps when we heard faint sirens approaching. I turned my head to see Michaels' figure emerging behind the door.

"Too late now." I looked into Sizzle's eyes.

#break#

I had been lying across the hard bunk in my cell, with my hands under my head, just staring up at the ceiling for eternity to pass. Outside, the constant bickering of the other inmates seemed to have lasted for an eternity too. The suppressing humidity hovered above us, the heat was suffocating, and the rage was intense.

In here, all kinds of rage could be found. If you knew the place well enough and observed carefully and passively, as I had, you'd find that all these apparently different rages were of one and the same—yes, even the rage of the prisoners and the guards were identical beneath those fancy excuses of sworn rivalry. Rage, reasonable rage, could easily be turned into desperation in this suffocating place; and rage's sole purpose was to provoke change, attention, and whatever else that this gloomy place needed.

Michaels won this evening and brought me here to the hall. Juvie hall was different from other prisons besides those obvious contrasts: More vigorous rage was found here, in midst of these more youthful, more restless, and more desperate inmates. We were the kids of the system, trapped in the system. We were the challenging ones, the controversial ones who always made sensitive headlines and provoked debates of morality (another fancy excuse of course). They simply didn't know what to do with us, yet "controversy" possessed a better connotation than "apathy" or even "we don't know." So, "controversy" it stayed.

Although this place was known to be overpopulated, I didn't have to share my cell with anyone else; I was in the "gangs unit." They have always tried to separate me from the masses, so terribly afraid of the influence I might impose on the general population. They deemed me as "dangerous" (whatever that meant). It wasn't merely because of my unnatural combination as a girl too young to be capable of these "dangerous" acts, or my infamous reputation and associations, or even that I was a veteran street kid who's learned to thrive in prison, but because of my uncommon knowledge: I knew about their lies and deceits, their plans and motives, their every thought. I knew exactly how the system worked and where the loopholes laid. I knew about their universally selfish goals and their willingness to sacrifice just about anything or anyone for their scandalous politics. I knew the greater truth behind the pretense. And that ugly truth, along with my readiness to expose it in a heartbeat to a public too willing to listen, was what made them label me as notoriously dangerous criminal. Of course, I knew that truth comes with a price.

For that, they watched me, constantly, diligently, for the precise moment when I make one careless slip, so they could righteously stand under the censuring light of justice with their heads held high, unafraid to be scrutinized; for now, there'd only be acclaims as they dutifully locked up a dangerous criminal. And Michaels became their secret weapon: Through the years, Michaels have come to know me well as the back of his hand. He could eerily sense my every thought and every move; anything from whether I had violated probation rules to whether I was covering up for someone. If Michaels knew they were using him to get to me, he never seemed to care. Like Sizzle said, even if Michaels knew everything, it didn't mean anything unless he could prove it. Hence, it was all a cat-and-mouse game; Michaels had won for the evening, but I shall make a come-back soon. And we all continued to play the game: They do what they have to do, Michaels does what his job tells him to, and I do what my heart tells me to.

The lights were cut from the cells, and the bickering died down. Soon, there was silence except for the guards' steady footsteps. I sat up, looked out the little barred window at the crested moon, closed my eyes and imagined myself sitting on the front porch with Greg and Sizzle, cigarettes in our hands, looking at the same crested moon in that intimate silence. I sat on my hard bunk and waited for tomorrow.

Tomorrow was what they called "judgment day." Tomorrow they will decide if I was "suitable for society." Of course, I wouldn't be, and they would move me from this gloomy place to another gloomy place filled with the same familiar, mundane rage, hidden under the same fancy disguises. People that never knew, never experienced, and never could begin to imagine the kind of life I've led, will be deciding my fate tomorrow. Of course it wasn't fair. But "fair" was abstract—never existed, never will. Whoever invented that word was idealistic—I respect that—but he probably had a soft bed and slept well too.

Tomorrow, I'll lose my freedom—my possession of the utmost importance and the only one left that mattered. I've been used to a life with no controls except my own—and that was the beauty of living on the streets. Chaos was the essence of the streets; I can't imagine life without that exhilarating chaos. The street life was the only life I knew, and the street family the only family I knew aside from the faint memory of Mama. Freedom and justice, two of the oldest values in existence, were timeless, irreplaceable, and what I've sought and fought since I could remember.

I walked into the game knowing I would lose my freedom sometime or another; Greg had taught me this before teaching me how to shoot a gun. But he also taught me there were things worth sacrificing freedom for.

I lied down on my side and pulled the overstarched sheets over my body. Tomorrow would come too soon.