Below is the first chapter of my novel. It’s told by Kylie Baines–pretty much the main character as most of the action revolves around her. She’s trying to finish her last year of college while helping run the family businesses. Except her family doesn’t exactly own restaurants or veterinarian clinics. They dabble in all kinds of business, anything they want to make their business really. Kylie has just found out that her uncle (the head of the family) was arrested this morning. To make matters worse, she received a found call from her uncle’s eldest son–the man who happens to be an Asst. District Attorney. So, her uncle is about to be taken down by his own son.
After I hung up the phone, I sat in my car and stared for a moment—trapped in the replay of the conversation that just happened. I hate when life feels like it’s happening to you. You’re not living it. You’re just being rolled over by its events. And all you can do is stand outside yourself and watch—like you’re in a movie or TV show or something. That’s how I feel sometimes—blurry and surreal.
My mom called as I started walking to Darcy Hall, already fifteen minutes late for my meeting with Professor Barnes. Mom was the last person I wanted to talk to. And, of course, I immediately felt guilty for the big sigh I let out when I heard her worried voice on the other end. I wouldn’t have even answered but it was too late. Between the juggling of my bag and my many layers of clothing, I forgot to look at the caller I.D. And I was hoping it was my cousin Blaise calling. Not that Blaise was the type to have a plan, but at least I could commiserate with him about our situation.
To make things worse I made the stupid mistake of telling her that Brice had called me. Before she called she was just worried about my uncle’s arrest. Now her concern had at least doubled. I was sure she was just sitting there thinking that I would be arrested that day too. Even I was panicking about that. As I walked quickly up the endless row of cars, my eyes darted between the many potholes in CSU’s student lot and the lot’s entrance. I was sure there would be multiple NYPD squad cars followed by Channel 5 News trucks speeding in any second.
Then something else grabbed my attention. I saw another Mercedes CLK—this time in navy blue. I had never seen another car like that in the student lot. Like a Benz or Jaguar or Beamer. It was brand-new too. Most students drove little Hondas or old SUVs their parents gave them. No one takes a car like that into this part of the Bronx. I looked back at my own CLK and regretted how dirty it was. (Should’ve never gotten the car in white.)
After walking a few minutes I felt slightly better. Better considering that I just found out my uncle had been arrested, my thickheaded egomaniacal cousin was probably going to prosecute his own father, I would probably be called in to testify, and I was late for school—the only semblance of normality in my life. To top it all off, I just basically hung up on my mom who was only calling to make sure I was okay. I think it was just numbness from the cold instead of actually feeling better. My mind was still everywhere. I just had to calm down.
I felt the crisp November air flow into my nose. This week the wind was assaulting compared to the fifty-degrees and partly sunny we had last week. It whirled around and pushed against my steps, making me take notice of it like an annoying younger sibling.
When my life feels like it’s going to shit, I sometimes focus on my breathing. It gives me something steady to concentrate on, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of yoga guru who meditates all the time. And I know it’s cheesy but when I think about my breathing, suddenly I become aware of my life in a different way. I feel solitary, but not in a self-pitying way. Not isolated, just solitary.
My bag got gradually heavier on the long walk to Darcy Hall on the other side of campus, almost to the new library. I switched it to the other shoulder and now the monogram faced inward and laid up against the side of my body. I thought about that monogram for a moment. KCB. Kylie Carine Baines. I was suddenly glad that my real last name wasn’t Baptiste. But then I realized…it doesn’t matter anyway. No one knew me as Kylie Baines, daughter of a school district superintendent Patrick Baines. I was Styles Baptiste, the niece of Denis Baptiste, Jr. who ran one of the biggest crime families in New York.
Then I thought about whose bright idea it was for me to change my name. Mark said it would be great for our club. The name “Baptiste” would bring everyone in. And it did. And for a while, things worked out great.
Mark Esposito. That name came slithering out of the corners of my mind since Brice called this morning. And now it had made its way to the bottom of my stomach where it contorted around and wringed out my energy. I had no nostalgic feelings towards my ex-boyfriend. A lot had happened since we opened that club.
But I shouldn’t be wasting my time on Mark and the past. I needed to keep my head on straight. I had a lot to take care of with school, and a lot more to take care of when I got home. Thinking about my ex was the last thing I needed to do. I decided to call my cousin Blaise to find out the latest details.
Yo, it’s Blaise. You know the drill.
I’ve always hated his stupid voicemail message. I stopped in my tracks and nearly growled. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t answering his phone. There was a good chance that while my uncle was arrested he was in the shower. Shit, there was a good chance my cousin was still in the shower. And he wonders why Uncle Denis has me take care of the important stuff.
I called Vinnie instead. He was one of our most trusted employees. On the surface he was just a manager at The Saddle, the strip club my uncle owns on the Lower West Side. But, he did a lot more than that.
“Vinnie, where’s Blaise?”
“You need to find Blaise. Make sure he’s calm. Then tell him to liquidate the two accounts in the Bahamas. He knows which name to use. He has to start on this before they freeze it. Also, tell him not to call Andy Schwartzman. The D.A. will expect him to represent us. But, we’ll be using…”
“Not Andy. He always…”
“Don’t ask fucking questions, Vin.” Vinnie was about ten years older than me. I trusted him but our working relationship was strained sometimes. It was hard taking orders from a 21-year-old girl. But Vin never went any further than the occasional question. “I don’t think you know how serious this is. Brice fucking called me. The prick called me to throw this in my face. And you know why he’s so happy? Because they have Mark.”
“Shit, they have Mark?”
“Just tell Blaise to get in touch with Sal. And tell him to call me…later. And tell him not to make a big deal about meeting Sal. Discreet. Not like how he did the trucking deal…And make him think all this was his idea.”
Vin laughed a little at that last one. “Take care, Styles. Don’t worry about it, okay? Relax.”
“Yeah. Relax. Maybe next year.”
I didn’t realize it but there were two students walking about five or six feet behind me. Barking orders on a cell phone wasn’t exactly blending in on a day like today. I looked over my shoulder, but they were deep in conversation about some party going on this weekend.
Just as my fingers started to turn white from the chilled air, I turned the corner and saw Darcy Hall. It was one of the older buildings on campus. In the middle of the big city, CSU was a little piece of ivied academia, a little beacon of knowledge and wisdom or so it would seem. I liked being there—I didn’t have to worry about anything else but school. I wasn’t Styles Baptiste there.
When I got inside Darcy Hall, I peered into every classroom as I walked down the newly renovated hallway. Everything inside was brightly lit—in a nauseatingly radioactive way. As I walked past, I turned my head as far as it would go to see every bit of the classroom without having to halt my stroll to the elevator.
At the elevator—another deep breath. I looked at the floor in front of me and shifted my weight from side to side. Late, yet again, for an internship with Professor Barnes I fought so hard to get. Maybe I should stop pretending like I’m a college student and just work for my uncle full time. At least I’m good at that.