Don't Say No

By: Linda Verji

The Beginning

Something bad always happened in The Section.

The night’s silence was pregnant with danger. No cars hooted, no dogs barked, no children cried. Even the papers that littered the street lay still as death-not even a whisper of wind to flutter them. It was as if the world was holding its breath, waiting for tonight’s evil to happen.

The only sign of human life was a solitary nondescript couple, both in their late teens or early twenties, walking down the concrete footpath. The man was tall, slender and sported a tapered crew cut. Despite the night’s chill he wore nothing more than a black t-shirt and gray sweatpants. But he walked with the confident swagger of someone unafraid of the evil that slithered in the dark corners of The Section.

The woman only came up to his shoulder and was several shades darker than he was. Her navy sweatshirt swallowed her painfully frail body to pool around faded denim pants. But her diminutive figure was nothing new around here. Every day another painfully thin girl got raped, pregnant, high or died in these poverty infested streets.

The couple’s scuffed sneakers barely punctuated the still night air as they made their way down the deserted street. Dim streetlights illuminated their path, the dirty glow like a beacon toward death.

“We shouldn’t be here, Lanie,” Nicolás Gavilan mumbled.

“You didn’t have to come with me,” Melanie Daniels, his girlfriend, replied.

He snorted in response and griped under his breath, “Can’t believe I survived Iraq to come and get killed here.”

Yes, they shouldn’t have been out here. Melanie knew exactly how dangerous it was to dare out of the relative safety of their apartment at this time of the night. She’d lived in The Section all her life and knew all too well the human monsters that lurked on the corners of these streets. If she had a choice, she’d be tucked up on the ratty couch she spent her nights on, uncomfortable-but safe.

But she had no choice.

Her brother, Marcus, was out here, somewhere, and she had to find him before trouble did. The last time he’d stayed out this late, he’d ended up in juvie for a month for boosting a car. She couldn’t afford the court fees or the anxiety that came with knowing her brother was in lock up.

However, her determination to find him was no shield against fear. Her heart throbbed loudly in time to the rhythm of her own footfalls, and her ears were on high alert to catch any sound that didn’t belong. She almost jumped out of her skin when something smashed against a trashcan nearby. A quick turn of her head toward the sound revealed a cat jumping off the roof of Kutz Hair Hospital.

“It’s okay.” Nic put his arm around her slim shoulders and settled her closer against him.

Though she trusted him and knew that, as a soldier, he was the best person to be walking around with at night, it wasn’t that easy to dispel the icy fear cooling her blood. She nervously rubbed her upper arms as she said, “I should’ve checked on him after school.”

“He is old enough to check on himself,” Nic said curtly.

Melanie kept silent, unwilling to get into an argument over Marcus. Her younger brother was a topic they’d beaten to death and still couldn’t agree on. Where Nic thought it wasn’t her job to chase the fifteen year-old, Melanie wasn’t about to let her brother get killed because he didn’t have the common sense God gave a rock.

They trailed the streets in search of Marcus, peering into each dimly lit alleyway with no success. They were about to give up when they heard it – loud arguing behind Mama J’s Cakes.

“You said if I drop you a gram tonight you finna have all ma paper. Finna have all ma paper,” someone yelled.

“C’mon RayRay, you been my link for how long? You know I’m good for it,” a pleading voice returned.

At the mention of RayRay’s name, Melanie’s blood slowed in abject fear. Everyone knew Raymond ‘RayRay’ Walker by face, name and voice. His father, Big Ray, ran The Section’s underworld. From drugs, to brothels to protection rackets – Big Ray had his hand in every illegal racket in the neighborhood. Using The Runners, a gang of young men as his muscle, he maintained a chokehold over everyone not smart enough to get the hell out of the neighborhood.