“How’s it going, Lex?” Dad asks.
“Pretty good.” She yawns. “Please tell me you have coffee, Frankie. The line at Starbucks was insane.”
“There’s a pot in the kitchen,” Dad offers. “Thanks, Mr. Devereux.” If she keeps acting this
cheerful, Dad will think she’s high. We’ve known each other forever, but when Lex developed a gross crush on my dad in seventh grade, it almost resulted in best friend excommunication.
“Don’t thank him yet,” I whisper. “His signature blend is burnt Maxwell House.”
“I’d rather go without food for a week than caffeine for a day.” Lex pours herself a cup of liquid coffee grounds.
Dad fishes a Velcro wallet out of his back pocket and lays two twenties on the table next to me. “Swing by the store after school and pick up some Diet Coke and anything else you want.” I leave the crumpled bills on the table. “I won’t have time.
Community service starts at three thirty, right after classes let out.” Thanks to King Richard, I already have a probation officer and a community service assignment. He called in a favor at the district attorney’s office, and my case was bumped to the top of the pile. “Lex is dropping me off at the rec center and picking me up when I’m done.”
I told Dad all this last night.
“You don’t mind?” he asks Lex. “You’re already driving Frankie to school in the mornings. I would take her myself—”
“But you can’t blow your cover. I totally get it.” She takes a sip of her coffee and cringes, but Dad doesn’t notice.
“You can’t slip and make a comment like that at school.” Dad gives us his serious cop look. “You both understand that, right?”
I ignore the question.
“Absolutely,” Lex says. “I mean . . . I absolutely won’t say anything.”
“Good.” Dad nods and looks over at me. “I would never send you to Monroe if I thought it would be an issue. The high school and the rec center are in the Third District—the nicer part of the Downs. It’s nothing like the war zone where I work in the First District.”
It’s weird to hear him describe any part of the Downs as nice. I guess it seems that way if you compare the rundown projects, abandoned buildings, and streets lined with liquor stores in Dad’s district with the neighborhoods near Monroe.
“People in oneD think I’m a car thief. If anyone finds out I’m a cop, I’ll have to walk away from my open cases and transfer to a district outside the Downs.”
Most people hear the word undercover and automatically think of DEA agents in movies—the ones who have to disappear without telling anyone where they’re going and move into crappy apartments so they can infiltrate the mob or the Hells Angels. But that’s not the way it works for regular undercover cops like Dad.
Obviously, he doesn’t wear a Tshirt that says I’M A COP. But he also doesn’t have to lie to the whole world about his job—just people who hang out in, or near, his district.
“Frankie? You understand, too, right?” He sounds irritated.
That’s what I get for ignoring his question the first time.
“I’ve never told anyone about your job except Lex, Abel, and Noah. Why would I start now? Maybe you should lecture Mom. She still bitches about your job to all her friends.”
Dad sighs. “I’m not trying to give you a hard time, Frankie.
I’m just reminding you to be careful what you say.” “Consider me reminded.” I glare at him, and Dad turns
“Your parents don’t mind you driving Frankie to the rec center?”
“They’re fine with it.” They probably have no idea.
Lex’s parents are never around unless they need her to pose for press photos.
“Does your father still have family in the Downs?” Dad asks.
“Nope. The Senator moved everyone out as soon as he could afford it.” Lex refuses to call her father Dad. Instead, she calls him the Senator because she says he cares more about being the first Puerto Rican–American senator in the United States than about being a father.
“I don’t blame him,” Dad says in his cop tone. “There’s a lot of crime. It’s a tough place for honest people to live.
Make sure to keep the car doors locked while you’re driving.”
“We know, Dad.”
He continues issuing instructions. “Remember to leave your purse in the car when you get to the rec center. Just take your phone and some money. And I got you something.” Dad opens the hall closet and fishes around in the pocket of his jacket. He returns with something pink in his hand. A flashlight? And two pieces of orange plastic?
Dad hands me the pink thing.
I take a closer look at the canister. “Pink pepper spray?” “I think it’s cute,” Lex says.
“Then you can have it.”
“It’s pepper gel,” Dad explains. “The spray can blow back at you, but this stuff shoots wherever you aim the nozzle. And the gel really sticks.”
“I’m not carrying that around.” I try to hand the canister back to him, but he won’t take it. “What if I set it off accidentally? I’m sure there’s a rule against bringing tearinducing toxins to school.”
“It has a safety, so it won’t go off unless you want it to. Keep it in your bag.” Dad points at the small black shoulder bag that already feels like the wrong choice.
I shove the pepper gel inside. Otherwise, he’ll never leave me alone.
“And you both need one of these.” Dad offers us each an orange piece of plastic.
Lex grabs one.
“It’s a rape whistle,” Dad says proudly. I saw that coming.
She scrunches up her nose. “Umm . . . thanks.”
I take mine and toss it in my armygreen backpack. He scratches his head as if he’s forgetting something.
“Wait inside the building until Lex gets there to pick you up.”
And I won’t take any candy from strangers.
“I’ll be on time, even if I have to speed,” Lex teases.
Dad misses the joke. “Do you have a clean driving record?” “Except for a few parking tickets, but everyone has some of those, right?” She flashes him the perfect smile that you only end up with after four years of braces.
“I don’t.” Dad walks over to the sliding glass door that leads to the balcony, and he looks down at the parking lot. “Is your Fiat a stick shift?”
“Automatic,” Lex says. “Frankie is the only person I know who can drive a stick.”
Because my dad suffers from undercovercop paranoia and he forced me to learn in case of emergency.
“One day you might need to drive a vehicle that isn’t an automatic,” he says.
I know exactly where this conversation is going. “Enough, Dad.”
“What if you’re alone and some lunatic grabs you off the street, and he drives a stick shift?” Dad asks, like it’s a perfectly normal question. “If there’s an opportunity to get away, you won’t be able to take advantage of it.”
Lex stares at my father, dumbfounded. She has heard me recount enough of these stories to know he’s serious. Usually, he saves these questions for me.
“You should learn,” Dad says. “If Frankie’s license wasn’t suspended, she could teach you.”
My shoulders tense. I’m not letting him play his passive aggressive games with me. “Is there something you want to say, Dad?”
“Just stating a fact.” He stands his ground.
“Why? So I won’t forget how badly I messed up my life?” Dad sighs. “I’m trying to help you, Frankie.” He isn’t apologizing or admitting he’s wrong.
“I don’t want your help.” I push Lex toward the apartment door. Before I follow her out, I turn back to look him in the eye. “I’m sorry you lost your perfect daughter. But I’m the one you’re stuck with now.”