Laila hustles through the busy airport, doing her best to juggle her luggage. It’s always hell for her to get through customs with all of her materials. Today is no different. After eight weeks of excavating the dig site at Giza after her discovery, Laila is glad to be home. She feels confidant leaving her assistant and one of her colleagues in charge of the dig while she is away. Besides, her mother would never let her live it down if she missed her younger sister’s big banquet in her honor. Laila searches through the bustling crowd for her family. She knows that they are here somewhere, Mom wouldn’t allow any different. Laila only hopes she doesn’t look too worn from the very long flight. She’d taken a minute before landing to freshen up, put on makeup and fuss with her wild curls a bit. There is no such thing as coming home to LAX airport looking like you’ve just crawled out of a deep dark whole, even if you really have. There is no telling who you can run into here, and furthermore, her sisters will more than likely be fly when they arrive, and Laila doesn’t do the ugly duckling thing.
Even amongst the hundreds of people in airport, Laila easily spots her mother in the crowd. The woman is so happy it appears as if a halo of sunshine surrounds her entire body. She definitely stands out with her smile beaming the way it was. She is always beaming any time she can get all of her girls in the same place at the same time. Daddy Walker is no exception. His smile can’t match Momma’s mega watt grin, but his eyes say it all, I done good. Laila couldn’t agree more. Maurice Darnel Walker of Compton California had certainly done well. His three girls had come up well, were well taken care of, and now all three are professional successes.
The eldest of the girls joins their mother in an excited wave, while daddy simply nods his approval in her direction. Nina, like their mother, is hard to miss in the crowded airport. Nina stands next to her parents like an Amazon beauty, five foot ten inches of all natural Latina perfection. Her long wavy black hair is pulled up high into a ponytail, accentuating her deep dark eyes that seem to carry a world of secrets and always glitter with mischief against her lightly bronzed complexion. She’d dressed down, but even in blue jeans and a baby –tee, Nina is beautiful, almost unnaturally so.
Nina reaches up and grasps her younger sisters’ hand, nodding with her chin towards their waving sister. Dawn’s smile is small and nervous as she waves back. Of the three sisters, Dawn was the least apt to seek the spotlight. That was definitely a feet difficult for the resident whizz kid of Baldwin Hills where they’d grown up. She’d skipped a grade entering high school and would have skipped two if she hadn’t refused so she could have a normal high school experience. Dawn’s long black hair hangs down past the center of her back like silk. Her slanted eyes gleam with excitement as she calls to her sister, rushing forward in approach. “Lai!” Dawn throws her arms around the neck of her adoptive sister. “I’m so glad your home!” Laila squeezes back as best she can without dropping her luggage. “You know I couldn’t miss your big award banquet.” Dawn smiles as she backs away to let Nina squeeze her homecoming sister as well, “So Mom made you come too?” Nina whispers in Laila’s ear. Laila only nods a yes and stifles her giggle. “It’s good to see you big sister” she says as Nina lets her go.
“Oh Maurice, would you just look at our girls, all standing together in the same place at the same time?” Nadine Walker is as pleased as punch to see her girls standing there, exchanging hugs and kisses. Maurice looks up and smiles as he effortlessly grabs all of Laila’s bags and kisses her on the forehead. “Good to see you home baby girl.” “Good to be home Daddy.” Nadine takes Laila in her arms and holds on to the girl like she’s afraid she might disappear. “Wow Momma, I missed you too.” Laila says as she pulls away, noting the glistening of unshed tears in her mother’s eyes. Nina pats her sisters back, “Don’t worry Lai, Mom’s been acting like this for weeks.” “Yeah.” Dawn adds, “I think she must be going through ‘the change’” Dawn says using her fingers like quotation marks in the air. All three sisters burst into laughter as Nadine swats Dawn’s fingers out of the air. “A woman can’t be happy to see her children anymore without being laughed at? If I didn’t k now any better I’d say you three weren’t raised right.” Laila throws her arm around her mother’s waist and pulls her close. “Oh come on Mom, you are the one who insisted we all come home and be together. You knew exactly what you were getting yourself into.”
It doesn’t take long to maneuver from inside the airport to the two cars waiting out front. They’d brought two cars because Daddy Walker refuses to try and squeeze all of Laila’s luggage into his car with all three and girls and risk harming his interior. His wife and girls had made a mistake of buying him an Onyx black Range Rover one father’s day, and they all learned the true meaning of obsession. Maurice Walker is something of a car enthusiast. Word on the street is that some time before he became a husband and father he was a world class car thief. The girls never listened to the rumors growing up, but sometimes when they watched him tinkering beneath the hood of some old car, they’d all wonder.
“You brought my car?” Laila says beaming at her baby in the beautiful California sun. “Yeah, we thought that after a long flight you might like to sit in the pilot’s seat.” Nina says, tossing Laila her keys. Laila runs her fingers over the brick red paint of her big bodies Mustang Convertible. “You better believe it” she quips as she slides inside. She revs the engine and is elated to hear it growl. “Man, I’ve missed you” Laila whispers sweet nothings to her car as her sisters strap in. “Please don’t break any laws Lai, and that includes the laws of physics.” Dawn pleads. “Relax Dawn, what could go wrong?” A wicked smile plasters itself across Laila’s full lips. “Those are famous last words” Nina says while double checking her seatbelt.
Soon the three are whipping down the freeway. Their parents don’t even bother attempting to keep up with Laila and her red streak of an automobile. “I’m starved” Laila turns down her blasting stereo system to say. “I just got home and I want something good before I get home. You know how it is.” The other ladies nod silently in understanding. Ever since about Laila’s senior year in high school, their parents had gone strictly vegetarian and decided to live a healthy holistic lifestyle. The girls were not going for it then anymore than they are now. “Just as long as it’s not Mexican food.” Nina says with a sick look on her face. “Ever since Dawn got back from the Indonesia, all she’s been eating is Mexican food. I swear if I eat one more tortilla, I’m going to be sick.” “Hey!” Dawn chimes in from the back seat. “I’ll have you know that California is one of the only places in the world that you can get good Mexican food. Tell her Lai, You know you want it.” Laila smiles being more than glad to hear the sound of her sisters playful bickering again. “Sounds tempting Dawn, but I have something else in mind.”
Within the hour Laila, dawn and Nina are sitting at a table in a small soul food restaurant famous in Los Angeles County. Nobody does soul food like M&M’s, and Laila has been dreaming about soul food for months. “I’ll have the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans.” Nina starts her order first. Dawn raises an eyebrow to her older sister. “Hey I don’t splurge often, so when I do I make sure it’s worth it.” Dawn and Laila lock eyes. They both know that Nina is going to punish herself in the gym later. The girl lives to work out and she has the abs to prove it. “Well in that case I’ll have the smothered pork chops, dirty rice and greens.” Dawn says to the smiling young waitress. “Yes ma’am, and what can I get for you? The girl says looking to Laila to order. “Well now, I’ll have the meatloaf, smothered mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans and biscuits.” Laila orders with a smile. “Oh, and gravy. Bring me a side of gravy.” Nina shakes her head at her sister, “You sure about that?” Dawn asks warily. “Yeah, I’m sure. I’m going to eat this good food, drive home and fall into a coma. I’ll gain five pounds in one day and spend the rest of the week trying to work it off. Who’s with me?” Laila says raising her glass of ice water. “Here, here” Dawn says clinking their glasses together. Nina looks slowly over her two younger sisters, “well hell, if I’m gonna do it I might as well do it right. Add some biscuits and gravy to my order.” She raises her glass as well. Three sisters cheer on their own self destructive resolve before falling into peals of laughter. Laila hadn’t noticed until now how much she’s missed her sisters. True to their word they eat until they can eat no more, drive to their childhood home and each fall asleep in the bedrooms they grew up in, on a full sized bed.
“Well good morning.” Big Daddy Walker says as Laila lazily tromps down the stairs and into the kitchen. Not much has changed in her family home since she’s been overseas. The wall in the stairway is still littered with family pictures. There are a few of Dawn and Nina as small children, but none of Laila. She wasn’t adopted until near her twelfth birthday. As a child this wall served as a reminder that she was different; a newcomer to the family but as she got older she came to see it how her mother did. The wall is a map showing where the Walker family came from and where they were going. “Good morning Daddy” Laila says plopping down on a stool at the kitchen island. Big Daddy lifts a large furry eyebrow to Laila, “I was being sarcastic Laila. It is 2 in the afternoon.” Laila rubs her eyes and looks at the large sunflower clock on the wall. “So it is”, she murmurs. Momma Walker loves sunflowers and her kitchen reflects it, with sunflower kitchen curtains, floor mats, magnets, and when they’re in season fresh sunflowers from her garden in a vase. “Where is everyone?” Laila asks noticing how quiet the house is. “Your sisters are at the gym, your Mom is at the museum. You know your sisters banquet is tomorrow night. When your mom gets home, I think you’re expected to join in the shopping and pampering.” Laila groans. She likes a nice pair of heals as much as the next girl but shopping with her mom and sisters is still a chore. Laila has always been daddy’s little tomboy. “Aw, come on kiddo. Don’t tell me that after all that time in the dirt you don’t want to get a pedicure? You’re gonna break your mom’s heart.” Laila offers her dad a half smile. “The guilt card? Low blow Dad.” Maurice chuckles. “Did it work?” Laila looks down at her feet, snuggly incased in fuzzy socks despite the impending summer. “I’m going to have to leave a big tip.”
This case is going nowhere. Detective Nathaniel Washington is usually not one to complain, but this time is different. He’s been undercover working his way up Enrique Olarté’s organization for more than a year and he’s turned up nothing. The guy stays squeaky clean. Olarté is never seen near any of his product or merchandise, though the entire LAPD knows he’s the big man in charge. That is who Nate is after, the top guy in the food chain. Olarté has his hands in everything: the drug trade, prostitution, local gangs, and anyone else who is for sale. After more than a year undercover all Nathaniel’s been able to gather on the man is that he runs his industry from behind the walls of a trendy nightclub. Being a local business owner is his front. Wicked is L.A.’s hottest and most exclusive night club.
Nate’s cell phone rings. He’s been waiting on a call all day. In less time than his team imagined, Nate has worked his way into being one of Olarté’s top producers. It makes him sick that he’s worked his entire career in law enforcement just to become a top ranking drug dealer. It wasn’t hard to do. Nate knows the industry; he was a small time dealer back in high school before he straightened himself out. “Washington?” A voice speaks cooly into the line. “Yeah, what’s up?” Nate responds equally as cool. He recognizes his contacts voice, though he’s never seen the man’s face. “The boss would like to meet with you. He wants you to come down to the club tonight. He feels its time you finally meet.” “Why?” Nate asks suspiciously. It’s not often that Olarté allows himself to be seen with any of his handlers who can be directly connected with the drug trade. “You have been very successful. The boss likes to thank those who help to spread his wealth. He is a very generous man when you benefit him.” Nate grunts. He knows what happens to those who don’t. Olarté is cruel and finds the most horrendous ways to dispose of those who no longer benefit him or get in his way. “What time?” Nate asks. “You know when the doors open. Whenever you arrive, we’ll know.” Yeah, Nate knows. He’s done plenty of business at the club. Tonight he gets the feeling that something is much different. Tonight might just be the break he needs to get the hell off this assignment.
Just his luck, Nate had been hand selected for this assignment. He grew up in L.A. and was something of a juvenile delinquent. It’s not an unusual fate for a foster kid, lost in the system and bounced around more than an exercise ball at the gym. He’s done his fare share of trouble making, being a minor street pharmacist and a few petty thefts. His past made him the perfect mole to stick into Olarté’s organization. All the department had to do was make his work history with them go away, which was done easy enough, and they had a readymade street thug. Nate hadn’t known if he should be flattered or insulted when he was assigned this position. He’d cleaned his life up a long time ago and this assignment almost insinuates that he’s still seen as a common thug.
Nate stretches his long legs on his black leather couch and flips the channels on his flat screen T.V. There aren’t many luxuries in his small one bedroom apartment, but the plasma flat screen is the only luxury he cares for. That and all the toys attached to it that make it so that he can watch any and every sporting event imaginable in crystal clear HD like a man is supposed to. Nate scratches his head irritably, noting that he could probably use an edge up. He’ll definitely have to hit up the barber before he heads out to meet Olarté. Nate takes his close cut fade seriously. He chuckles to himself remembering what finally got him to change his ways: having his ass thoroughly kicked and locked up. He’d tried his hand at car theft on the wrong guy. A smile spreads across his full lips as he remembers why he did it: Laila. He stretches his massive hand and admires his 16 year old tattoo. He’d gotten her name written across his fingers, one letter on each hand. She’d gotten his name written in pretty red script on her inner right wrist. Laila was his best friend, the only person in the world who got him. She was and is his only family he’s ever known.
They were both placed in the same foster home in middle school. In the short time they were there, they’d caused a world of trouble. They’re foster father, if you can call him that, was a real ass when he was drunk, which was pretty often. His wife was always nice enough; she seemed to really care and want to help. It’s why she became a foster parent, but her husband he was another story altogether. He’d come home wasted and take his bad mood out on whoever was closest. Nate had earned his own negative attention, being something of a wild card. Laila would take a beating to protect other, smaller kids. She was a spit fire. Nate remembers not getting her and her need to protect other people. It’s not like she wasn’t gonna get hers anyway; she got in trouble enough at school. The first time he caught her taking the rap for something he’d done, he was sold. He’d taken some money from his foster father’s wallet. There really was no reason for it. He just hated the guy and wanted to do something to spite him. No one had ever tried to protect him before. Nate was older and bigger than she was, but she was so brave. She copped to stealing, gotten her ass beat, and never said a word about it. She never said a word. He only found out from one of the other kids. When he asked her why she looked up and said, “He gets you worst than the rest of us. I couldn’t watch it again today. We’re the only family we’ve got. We have to look out for each other.”
Never had anyone showed Nate that kind of compassion, and for no reason. He had never done anything special to gain her favor. From that day on they were inseparable. The idea of having family, any kind of family, who was down enough to take a licking for him turned something on in Nate that he could never turn off, not to this day. From then on, he took Laila with him to run the streets and they got into trouble together. He told everyone she was his sister and if anyone bothered her he’d kick there ass, not that she needed him to. She’d been in foster care all her life just like him, Laila didn’t need any help fighting. She never asked for help and never asked for it. The one time she did, it landed them both in juvenile hall. Nate had been in the garage playing video games and their foster mom had taken the younger two kids to the market with her. Nate heard her cream his name from inside the house, and he’d come running. He’d never heard her sound afraid before. When he got in the house he’d founf his drunken foster father standing in the doorway to the girl’s bedroom. Over his shoulder he could see Laila huddled against the wall trying to cover herself up. She was changing clothes and only had on her underwear. Nate didn’t know if he’d touched her, if he’d tried to or if he was just spying on her and been caught, but he didn’t care. He’d been in foster care long enough to know that if he was trying to watch, eventually he’d try and touch, and he’d die before he let anyone hurt Laila, especially that ass whole.
Nate still can’t remember exactly what happened. He’d picked up something heavy in the kitchen, the police report said a stock pot, and he’d just started swinging. He had the upper hand for just a little while before the drunken bastard got his bearings, and suddenly Nate was losing the fight, badly. The man was cursing, swinging and calling him every bad name he could think of. Nate had almost given up when suddenly he stopped. Laila had thrown on some shorts and a lose tee and decided she had enough of Nate defending her honor. She’d snuck up behind the man with one of his own golf clubs. He never knew what hit him. His body just crumpled to the floor in a messy, bloody pile. Laila stepped right over his unconscious body like it wasn’t there and came straight to Nate’s aid, trying to tend to his wounds. It was then Nate knew that she really was his family and that he’d never let her go for anyone or anything. They’d even gone to juvenile hall together when their foster mom came home to find her husband slumped unconscious in the hallway.
Even though Laila got placed with a good family, they stayed close. Her adoptive family stayed in L.A. so they stayed close despite her new family’s protests. Maurice, her new dad blew his top when she came home at 16 years old with Nate’s name tattooed on her wrist. The Walker’s grounded her for a month. Nate decided he’d jack Maurice Walker’s car to take some of the heat off Laila. All that got him was his ass kicked when Maurice found him, which happened far faster than Nate thought it would. Furthermore, it landed him back in Juvi for the last time. More importantly, Mr. Walker insisted the charges be dropped, sat him down and really talked some since into him about being a man and what it really meant. He’d told him if he really wanted to help Laila he’d let her focus on school and make something of her life and so would he or else they’d both be in one system or another for the rest of their lives. That message really hit home. Nate was growing up and in less than a year he’d be 18, on his own, and free of foster care and group homes. No more systems and no more rules except the ones he made for himself. Nate can clearly hear the man’s voice in his mind still to this day. “I like you boy. You remind me of a young me.” He said patting him on the back at the end of their man to man talk, “but if I catch you with your hands on my car or my daughter, I’ll bury you, remember that.” Nate believed him.
Nate picks up his personal cell phone and stares wondering if he should give Laila a call. It’s been a long time since he’s seen her. He tosses his phone down again. He can never keep up with when she’s I or out of the country, and he doesn’t want to get her mixed up in his life right now while he’s undercover. It’s just too dangerous. When Olarté wants to get someone, he goes after the ones they care about first. Laila is his only family to speak of so that would make her target number one. Nate can’t take that kind of risk. He glances at his watch and checks the hour. It’s time to hit the barber shop before heading for the club, there is no telling what kind of night tonight will be.