Sympathy for the Devil:
An Angela Bivens Thriller
By Christopher Chambers
Published by Crown Pub
September 2001; 0-609-60849-5; 320 pages

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Sympathy for the Devil by Christopher Chambers1

Friday . . . Three Weeks After Labor Day, 1999

The Spartans of East Anacostia Senior High School whipped the Ballou High Knights by three touchdowns. Now the bleachers were dark and empty, the scoreboard lights dim. And when the victory howls and good-bye hugs ebbed, lingering Spartan marching band members and cheerleaders departed the shadowy school parking lot, leaving their cohort, Tamika McGarry, standing all alone.

Tamika had signed up for the Pep Squad as a means of breaking out of her shyness, and for breaking into one of East Anacostia's premier cliques. Being a cheerleader meant you had value. Damn important in a world that reminded you daily that you had no value. Getting the veteran cheerleaders to warm up to her had been slow going, however. Yet Tamika told herself to be patient. She gaped up at the crescent moon. Tamika's mother, dead four years that July, once lullabied her only daughter with a pledge that the Lord would always watch over her with an eye as bright and vast as a full harvest moon. But tonight, all Tamika saw was a pale squinted eye obscured by a milky gauze of clouds.

Lemme go find Cassandra's triflin' ass, Tamika thought as she clutched at her own shoulders to suppress the inner chill, an' we can catch the number 33 down Alabama Avenue . . . home. Safe. Well, maybe not altogether safe, as "home" sometimes meant late-night gunfire between competing covens of street dealers. At least it was safer than a deserted high school parking lot. So Tamika called out to Cassandra Brown.

For the past thirty minutes, Cassandra'd been trying to vamp up a ride home. Cassandra deemed herself a diva, and divas didn't ride the number 33 Metrobus--not with its passenger manifest of winos and late-shift minimum wagers. So she was leaning hard into the open passenger-side window of an Isuzu Rodeo parked at the school lot's entrance. DMX's lurid chants rocked the SUV's woofers; the rear half of Cassandra's body swayed to the beat like a metronome. Her bright white cheerleader uniform--tunic, miniskirt, and boots--shimmered against the Rodeo's dull matte finish.

Tamika's eyes fixed on Cassandra's panties, freshened by the damp wind. Tamika knew that the pooh-butt gangstas in the Rodeo were drooling over what was in those draws. Cassandra had back--and breasts--aplenty, and the cheerleader uniforms she and Tamika were wearing only accentuated what nature had given them both. Tamika's daddy always lectured: Never, ever get into a car with someone you didn't know. Not with all these wanna-be playahs and junior thugs profiling in their suped-up rides, flashing mad loot at any teenage girl who caught their eye. Some girls would jump in, for a thrill. This was benignly called "car-hopping." Being treated like a princess meant a trip to the computer arcade at Iverson Mall for an evening of Zelda or Donkey Kong, then grubbing at TGI Friday's. Yet a lot of girls ended up in jail for what their Prince Charmings had stashed under the front seat or in the trunk. And Tamika knew of one who had been sucked into the night, then spit out into a Dumpster a week later. Naked. Cut. Shot. Pale as that crescent moon. Yvette . . .

Cassandra finally unglued herself from the window and leered at Tamika through her stiff bangs. Tamika popped a filmy jawbreaker bubble and flipped her braids off her shoulders. She reminded Cassandra that they couldn't hang late; scholarship exams started promptly at nine o'clock in the morning. Four years of college money was at stake--and that meant a ticket out of Southeast D.C. Cassandra was unmoved, so Tamika tried jogging Cassandra's loyalty to a boy named Darryl Wiggins.

 

"He still love you, Cassie," she insisted. "An' he played his heart out ta-night. You oughta go home an' call him."

Just as second thoughts began to congeal in Cassandra's brain, a young man wearing a hooded Phat Farm anorak around his neck like a cape emerged halfway from the Rodeo's passenger window. He was James "Jimmy" Torry. He whistled his impatience to the girls; he didn't want to be parked there any longer than he had to. From one end of the block, down to Alabama Avenue, sat a column of idling cars packed with bodies squirming to Ginuwine's sex ballads. But what rattled Jimmy was an authentic "hoopdy"--a rusted old Buick Regal customized with red fluorescent lights lining the chassis. At the wheel was a young man wearing a red bandanna. He was a scout for the Suitland Bloods: the real home team.

Obscured by a bus shelter, another car waited. A station wagon. Its driver didn't study the girls with the glower of a rival gangbanger. No, he stared in openmouthed hunger.

Cassandra had her own pangs to feed. Inside the Rodeo were nineteen-year-old men, with cash. Not boys. Soldiers in the Branch Avenue Crew, who had entered the Bloods' backyard. But they also had the almighty dap: respect, worth, prestige. Tonight meant escape from empty days and listless evenings spent inside a public housing complex ironically named the Marcus Garvey Village. Despite two years on the honor roll, college was as much of a mirage to Cassandra as the glowing monuments across the Anacostia River.

"Ain't nuthin' bad happen on a car-hop," Cassandra declared to Tamika, but then her voice softened. "Not since Yvette disappeared." But the voice sharpened once more. "I'm wid these boys whether you come or not, Mikki. You my girl or what?"

Tamika scanned her boots pensively, her mind recalling her father's admonitions, the scholarship test . . . Yvette's face the last time she saw her. Yet those voices and images all dissolved with that one little question: "You my girl or what?" Cassandra was Tamika's only "popular" friend. It was she who had cajoled Tamika into being a cheerleader. Okay, so maybe these brothers didn't look all that shady. A quick bite at Friday's, a couple of quarters' worth of Donkey Kong, and then home to bed, right? Besides, Cassandra needed looking after--her mouth had gotten her into trouble ever since the two girls were in elementary school together. So Tamika was game. After all, she and Cassandra were teenagers. Confident in their own indestructibility.

Cassandra giggled. "Yeah--you my girl!"

Visibly annoyed by his compatriots' obsession with high school pussy, the Rodeo's driver, Dante "Bam" Walters, punched his thigh to the beat of the angry poetry blasting from his speakers. Jimmy persuaded Bam to unlock the doors anyway. Cassandra jumped in the front, straight onto Jimmy's lap. Tamika peered into the vehicle's rear compartment. The map light's glint revealed empty bottles of St. Ides Special Brew; the silver-gray upholstery was stained and dotted with food crumbs. Tamika slid in, frowning. The young man in the backseat, D'Angelo "Pooh" Atwell, raised his wraparound Oakleys to gawk at Tamika's bare thighs and the rise of her breasts under her uniform.

Once Tamika pulled the rear door shut, something metal rapped the driver's window. A woman in a blue uniform greeted Bam's innocent grin. Officer Sheila Burnett of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department's Seventh District branded the Rodeo's male occupants with her flashlight beam. "Y'all don't go to this school. . . . Y'all don't need to be with sixteen-year-old girls. And this car is illegally parked."

"Aw, hold up," Bam protested as he brandished his license and registration. "This ain't no 'car.' This here a twenty-eight-thousand-dollah sport utility vehicle, and it's all mine. They wid us voluntarily, an' there ain't no brew or reefer in here."

Burnett sighed, then showed her notepad to Bam and Jimmy. She'd written down the Rodeo's license plate number. "See that? If anything happens to these girls . . ." She backed away from the SUV.

Tamika whispered a new round of reservations into Cassandra's ear while Pooh's eyes probed her body. Cassandra told her to stop being a punk, even though Cassandra herself felt an acidic twinge in her stomach and heard the tiny voice in her head saying maybe she should get the hell out of the Rodeo. Cassandra blinked, wondering why she wasn't heeding that voice. Too late. The Rodeo peeled out onto Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E.

A set of headlights followed discreetly.

Pooh produced three squat cigars--"blunts"--from the pocket of his boxy leather jacket. To prove she was no little girl, Cassandra intercepted a blunt and took a drag. The fortified marijuana and cheap tobacco triggered an explosion of coughs.

Jimmy laughed and said, "Slow yo'roll. We goin' bust soma this pretty soon." Jimmy dangled a little brown vanilla extract bottle in front of her. "We makes much cheese offa this shit. Even them punk-ass Bloods wanna deal with our supply!"

Cassandra rubbed her smoke-stung eyes; she knew damn well that stuff was "love boat." Liquid PCP. Common sense finally seized her. "Y'all crazy? Y'all can just drop me an' my fren' off right down at th'bus stop, then."

Jimmy wasn't smiling anymore. "Bitch, don't play . . ."

"Niggah whatchew call me?"

Tamika sprung forward. "Whatchewall doin'? Cassie?"

Pooh spied Tamika's tight white panties as she leaned up. He thrust his arm under her skirt. Tamika screamed and wheeled around to slap him, but Pooh clamped a viselike grip on her waist. Then came the sharp sound of Tamika's tunic ripping under Pooh's paws.

Cassandra lunged for the emergency brake lever and gave it a good yank. The Rodeo spun off the road, kicking up a spray of gravel. When the vehicle finally skidded to a stop, Bam slammed his forearms on the steering wheel and shouted at Pooh and Jimmy: "Fuck y'all two dumb muvfuckas! I tole you we didn't have time for this shit! That cop got my plate number!"

Tamika thrashed in Pooh's arms, shrieking, "An' she gonna arrest yo' punk asses, too!"

Pooh and Jimmy dumped Tamika and Cassandra onto the road's shoulder; then Bam eased out of the SUV and approached the girls very slowly. Cassandra raved obscenities at him; he only smirked. He knew both girls were petrified. "Those ignorant muvfuckas wanted to sex you two mooks into the Branch Avenue Crew. But I don't permit no fish smell in my damn ride." He pulled two ten-dollar bills from the pocket of his sagging khakis and tossed them at Cassandra's feet. "Get a taxicab an' take yo'asses home."

"Hey, fuck you, Bam!" Cassandra shouted as the Rodeo's taillights disappeared. The girls were just over the D.C. line into Maryland, marooned in the dark. And it was starting to drizzle.

Tamika sobbed. Cassandra thought aloud: "We could walk back up Pennsylvania to the Wilson Cemetery--they gotta have a pay phone--an' I'll call my uncle ta pick us up."

Tamika howled. "Huh? You just don't wanna give up on no twenty dollars is all! Aw . . . let's jus' go!"

The girls marched along the road's shoulder to the Wilson Cemetery's well-lighted gatehouse and took refuge under its red tile awning. Headlights suddenly pierced the curtain of rain; the car crossed over to the girls' side of the street, halting in front of the gatehouse. It was a station wagon. Old. Dented. Boxy on the rear, rounded on the front.

Slowly, the power window on the driver's side lowered. The girls jumped back. A finger of light from the gatehouse floodlights tickled the wagon's interior. Squinting, both girls could see that the man behind the wheel was wearing an olive brown duster and a black leather beret.

A deep voice asked, "What on earth are you all doing out here?"

That voice brought first a gasp, then a smile from Cassandra. She began to sway coquettishly in the downpour. Puzzled at her friend's behavior, and still a little scared, Tamika edged closer to the window. The driver leaned out; his face was now brightened by the floodlights' beams. My Lord, it's him, Tamika gushed inwardly. It was really him! Strange to see somebody like him in that old rusty wagon . . . but hey, God was now raining down wonderful luck, and Tamika wasn't going to question it.

Cassandra was giggling and wriggling in that tight--and wet--uniform. Wasting no time, Tamika begged for a ride. Forget flirting--she was cold! Yet the driver politely asked her if both girls would be more comfortable if he just called their parents on his cell phone. Before Tamika could answer, Cassandra wedged herself in front of her friend, prattling, "Don' pay her no mind. She jus' scareda th' nightime is all." As Tamika frowned, Cassandra said, "I think we need something to warm us up before we get took home, don't you?"

Chuckling, the driver unlocked the doors. Cassandra climbed into the front seat; Tamika tucked herself into the back. The driver then gunned the wagon onto the road. He started lecturing the girls on the dangers of car-hopping, but Tamika noticed that the advice sounded scripted, even forced. "I could be some lunatic, for all you know," he concluded.

"But you ain't," Cassandra cooed. "I seent you e'reywhere. . . ."

The man looked puzzled, like he'd lost his place in the script. But he soon recovered, grinned, and hit the power door lock. The slender knobs disappeared deep inside their fittings.

Cassandra fiddled with the radio. The man gently moved her hand away from the controls and punched the scan button until he found the joyous popping of "Go-Go" music. Get yo' one leg upPut yo' bootie on th' floor. . . . This plastic-bucket-percussion groove was the real sound of D.C. street corners alien to tourists, congressmen, and diplomats. Cassandra squealed in delight. Tamika kept time with her head. Then she felt the engine knock.

"Alternator trouble," the driver said with a nonchalant yawn. Tamika scrunched up her nose. Shouldn't he have turned onto Alabama Avenue?

A traffic light in the trough between two steep hills suddenly flashed from amber to red, and it caught the driver by surprise--just as he strained to reach under his seat for something. The car jerked to a dead stop, and a black pistol slid right out from where the man had groped.

"Ohmahgawd!" Cassandra gasped. "You strapped?"

Smiling, he scooped up the weapon. "Air pistol. Only shoots paint balls."

"Paint balls?" Cassandra huffed. "You ain't gonna stop nobody from jackin' yo' ride wid no paint balls!"

The driver said he used the pistol for games out in the woods. Cassandra shivered when he said that, because his eyes suddenly went cold and seemingly bottomless. Every time she'd seen these eyes before, they were as warm and gooey as her grandmama's cobbler. She decided not to look at him for a while.

The light turned green and the wagon shortly broke the crest of the second hill. The monuments and Capitol dome glistened in a rainy panorama. Cassandra turned and smiled at Tamika, for at this moment those fairy-tale temples didn't seem like a mirage. Then the wagon descended into the moist darkness.

Copyright 2001 by Christopher Chambers
Reprinted with permission.

--From Sympathy for the Devil : An Angela Bivens Thriller, by Christopher Chambers. September 11, 2001 (back to top)


Synopsis

FBI Special Agent Angela Bivens has just won a race and sex discrimination lawsuit against the Bureau. All she ever wanted to be was a field agent. Be careful what you wish for. Her cynical superiors throw her a bone: helping a befuddled D.C. Police Department investigate the brutal kid-napping and murder of two teenage girls, as well as the macabre, ritualized execution of rival drug dealers. The cops say it’s all gang-related. Angela is about to discover the unspeakable horror that is the truth. Though the stress of the case saps Angela’s spirit, fate pushes her into a love affair with every woman’s dream— the handsome and mercurial P. T. "Trey" Williams. A "black JFK, Jr." Lawyer, lobbyist, scion of an elite family in the Nation’s Capitol. Connected from the Hill to the White House. But Trey has a secret. His twin brother Ganneymede — a former Navy SEAL, now a hopeless heroin addict nicknamed "Pluto" because he’s "cold, black and far out" like the planet—might be an accomplice in the very crimes Angela’s sworn to solve.

Amazon readers rating: from 18 reviews

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Author

Christopher Chambers recently relocated to Charlotte from Washington, D.C., where he served with the U.S. Department of Justice. He’s a graduate of Princeton University, a D.C. native and was raised in Baltimore.

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