Cece would have to drive or Graham would start knocking her around, so she just went to the quiet place. Like sitting on the dock at her dad’s lake house, nothing but the sparkly water to hypnotize her. She didn’t have to do a goddam thing. Whatever happened was somebody else’s doing. She could drive like that. Just do whatever Graham said. Turn here, slow down, turn off your lights, pull over.
“Leave the engine running,” Graham said. “Be ready to high-tail out of here.”
Cece paid no attention to what Graham and Steve were doing. If they got caught, it was on them. She wouldn’t remember a thing. She did register, vaguely, that the street was too dark for town. No orderly line of lights marching down the street, but a scattering of dim, bluish spotlights on broken glass, old tires, battered trash cans. Lock the doors, kids.
“Here he comes.” She stared straight ahead, foot on the brake, hands tight on the wheel. Graham’s window rolled down. “What you got for the head tonight, my man?” Graham and his phony ghetto slang. Sometimes him and his football buddies talked that way all day long. Most of them stopped around black people, but not Graham–he was right in their faces with it. Funny for a guy always on about sending them all back to Africa. Maybe that was it. Maybe then he’d own talking cool.
“You just hand it all over to Stevie.” Steve, in the back seat, had his window down and his pistol pointed at the guy.
A tap beside Cece’s head and she jumped, her quiet place cracked apart. She turned to see the barrel of another pistol at her window. Another at the back window. The car suddenly surrounded. Somehow she managed not to scream.
“You ain’t pull that shit again.” The dark face leaning in at Graham’s window was hard as steel, his voice deep and steady.
Graham’s face twisted into a smile. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.” No ghetto voice this time.
“You don’t think we know that car? We been tracking you five blocks.”
“I told you,” Steve hissed from the back seat.
“Shut up, Steven.” Graham’s dangerous voice.
“What you think, Bullet?” It was the boy outside Cece’s window. She couldn’t see his face, just the gun barrel against his Crimson Tide sweatshirt. “How ’bout they leave the bitch and we call it square?” Now Cece’s throat sealed up, no air coming in.
“Steve,” Graham said, “Shoot him.”
Steve made a guttural sound in his throat, the only sound in an agonizing stretch of silence. Then the guys outside the car exploded with hooting laughter.
“Steve, shoot him!” Bullet had Graham’s voice dead on. The others banged on the car, doubling over with laughter.
“Steve, you hand over that piece,” Bullet said, “and Tex, whatever you carrying. And every goddamn penny y’all got.”
Cece, hands shaking, managed to get one breath while Graham threw them his cash and pawed through her purse for more. Then another breath. She remembered the engine was still running.
“Go, go!” Graham hissed.
“Cleat, get the keys,” Bullet said.
Cleat had her door open and keys in his hand before she could move. Steve took the moment to grab for his pistol–like all his moves, stupid. They pulled him half out of the window and cracked the top of his head with the handgun he had never fired, opened the door and hauled him forward. His foot caught on something under the seat.
“What the fuck?” Bullet said, stepping over Steve to pull the thing out, grasping the handle and pulling the sword out of its wooden sheath, the blade glowing blue in the weak flicker of the streetlight. “Tex got a toy.”
Graham thrust his arms through the window, clawing the air as Bullet pulled the sword just out of his reach. “Get your filthy black hands off that!” he growled, as enraged as Cece had ever seen him. “That’s my great-great-grandaddy’s sword! General Hood gave it to him–”
Cece couldn’t believe it; he was giving the speech. Outnumbered, out-gunned, half out of the car window with his arms pinned. She could have recited it along with him. –for breaking the Federal line at the Seven Days Battles at Richmond. It was rare, manufactured by Kraft and Goldsmith of Columbia, S.C.– The gang drowned him out laughing before he got to Richmond, but he said the whole thing, anyway. He couldn’t help himself.
Bullet nodded and another boy slammed a three-foot piece of rebar on the back of Graham’s head, making a sound that was familiar to Cece–a quiet swish followed by a whap. Except her dad used a broom handle. The rebar’s swish was higher-pitched and ended in a crunch.
They pulled Graham and Cece out of the car, sat her against a light pole and propped him, sagging like a rag doll but still struggling, against the passenger tire. Bullet drew the sword out slowly and stood at attention, pointing it straight ahead of him. Charge. He knelt beside the son of the Confederacy while they held his arms against the car. Cleat popped a beer and shook it over Graham’s head. His eyes fluttered and he inhaled, choking and gasping. Bullet showed him the sword, then slowly brought the edge to his throat while Cleat turned his head to face Steve. Bullet nodded and they shot Steve twice in the head.
“I recognize you,” Bullet said. “Your granddaddy lynched my granddaddy.”
“Great-great-granddaddy,” Graham said.
Bullet pushed the blade against his Adam’s apple and looked at Cece. “We’re gonna do him last, so he can watch what happens to you.”
No one made a sound. Cece looked straight at Bullet, then grasped the bottom hem of her cashmere sweater and pulled it over her head. She tossed it aside and sat there in her bra. Her skin translucent in the vapor light, pale as marble, with patches of deep blue edged with yellow. She got to her knees and turned around so they could see the welts on her back, the angry reds black in the blue glow.
They wouldn’t be able to tell Graham’s work from her dad’s. It didn’t matter.
She turned around to face the silent, motionless boys. Arms relaxed at her sides, she looked at Bullet again. “Do me last,” she said. “so I can watch him die.”
Bullet looked. They all did. Then he nodded slightly and drew the blade across Graham’s neck, artery to artery, precise as a surgeon. The blade was razor-sharp. That was another part of the speech Cece knew well. How Graham had bribed his uncle to sharpen the antique sword in his metal shop, defying the purist collectors. “I’m not destroying heritage,” Graham had said. “I’m getting ready for war.”
The struggle lasted seconds, and they let his body slump into the spreading pool of blood. Bullet leaned over and wiped the blade clean on Graham’s letterman jacket. The boys dragged the bodies off the street, back into the neighborhood dark.
“That’s all the blood it wants for now,” he said, turning the blade around in the blue light, easing the tip under Cece’s sweater and flicking it over to her. He sheathed the sword and walked casually after the others.
Cece sat staring at constellations of shattered glass flickering blue under the street light, like muted morning sun on wavelets pushing toward shore. She wondered where Cleat was with her keys. She knew cleats from the lake house, safeguards against drifting away. Graham used cleats for traction, biting into the ground to launch him at his enemies. She wondered if he and Cleat had ever faced off on the field.
She shrugged on her sweater and wobbled to her feet. She had some walking to do. Any direction led out.