The sounds were ominous for this time of the day. Only the skidding of shoes along the pavement, an occasional grunt and, of course, the thump of the ball. This was a serious issue and every move was quickly calculated before execution, each person accounted for if only out of the corner of one’s eye. Failure was not to be tolerated in this game.
With July’s smoldering sun beating down on the blacktop, Emma Knightly swung to the right, then faked to the left, spinning on her back heel before racing down the court, dodging in between taller players. Ignoring the heat from the blazing summer sun and the sweat as it chased its way irritably down her back, soaking her cotton tee-shirt and plastering it against her skin, she almost smiled as she angled between two teens, easily a foot taller than she. Emma was hot, but she was also on fire. She’d get this basket, she just knew it!
Two more steps, dribble, swing to the right, one more step….
And the basket ball disappeared. She blinked once. Twice. Her hands seeming to be still dribbling even when the basketball wasn’t with them. Emma looked around, stunned that she wasn’t still in possession of the ball.
And then she spotted the evil ball stealer as he raced down the asphalt court in the opposite direction. Furiously, she spun on her heel and raced after him, tossing her long brown pony tail off of her neck impatiently. “Jerome! You stole that ball,” she cried out and called out after him, running towards the back court, after what she now considered her ball, her topaz eyes glaring with determination as she sprinted down the court, her shorter legs unable to compete with the teen’s longer stride.
The wily teenager didn’t even pause as he shifted quickly on the heel of his shoe, making headway against the opposing team. “Hey, short stuff, come on over and get it if you think you can,” Jerome called back and Emma didn’t bother to glare at the others who laughed. She was on a mission.
“Over here, J!” she heard Manny call out.
Mike, T-Jay and Gregg all shot out of nowhere and blocked her so she spun on her heel and faked them to the left this time, easily getting around their human, testosterone laden barricade. “Out of my way, boys. Padre, get to the left,” she called out to her one and only team mate.
She almost smiled with delight as the five guys shifted to the left, ready to block Father Michael’s progress down the court but they’d worked out a plan in advance and Father Michael shifted to the right and sped down the court, already in position when Emma ducked under the arm of a six foot three inch Jerome who was blocking, whipped her arm out and stole the ball. In a perfect pass, she tossed it high, down the court to Father Michael who shot from the center, sinking the ball through the hoop.
She high fived Father Michael on the two point gain among the groans and complaints from the opposing team. “Don’t let it get to you boys,” she laughed. “But you can guarantee I’m going to be spreading it around that you got the ball stolen from someone you referred to as ‘short stuff’. Jerome, you bring it in,” she said.
Jerome walked to the edge, no lines in place here, everyone just assumed the boundaries of this basketball court where precious paint was reserved for covering up gang graffiti and wouldn’t be wasted on applying regulation lines to the beaten up asphalt court.
Jerome, in an over abundance of confidence, decided to mimic the pass Emma had just done down court to Father Michael. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the advantage of experience, or practice. Emma, along with all six other players, watched in slow motion as the basketball soared through the air, over the basketball hoop at the other end of the court, over the tall fence designed to keep the ball in the area, and just kept on going, arcing beautifully, gracefully and mercilessly, down onto the windshield of the most beautiful limousine any of them had ever seen.
All of them stood there, unable to stop the ball, unable to believe that something so horrific had happened on top of the painfully hot afternoon. Maybe one or two of them, in that millisecond space of time, had the forethought to wonder why a vehicle like that was traveling in this section of Washington, D.C. when most people didn’t even leave their houses after the sun started setting over the capitol building for fear of being mugged. But none had the time to voice that thought aloud, as the horror of the moment struck each and every one of them.
Within seconds, the limousine had stopped, as had three other black SUVs that had been traveling in front of and behind the limousine. Black suited men with large machine guns and pistols at the ready lined up, all of them scouring the area to determine the threat, calling out to each other in a foreign language.
Emma cringed, wishing more than anything a rusty old pickup truck or tow truck had been passing through this neighborhood. It was the inner city, and there hadn’t been a vehicle worth more than ten thousand dollars pass through here in more than a decade. What kind of luck was there when the one time an expensive car comes through, it gets hit with a basketball as it passes? What kind of crazy game was fate playing?
With the sun beating down hard, the smell of hot, sweaty bodies surrounding her and panic welling up in her chest, Emma moved slowly forward, holding out her hands as the focus of all those weapons, not to mention the scary eyes hidden behind even scarier dark glasses, trained on her.
“I’m really sorry, gentlemen, but I promise you there is no threat here. Please stand down,” she said. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw curtains flicker as neighbors poked their heads out of windows. Someone jumped from the street into an open door, disappearing as the tension became palpable.
“Really, it was simply an accident and we’ll pay for the damage,” she said, her mind frantically searching for some way to diffuse this situation. “Please, let me explain.”
The back door to the limousine opened and two of the men in black suits raced forward, speaking quickly but whoever was behind the door ignored the arguments and stepped out.
Emma almost gasped as her eyes took in the man who was slowly standing up from the back of the beautiful car. He was incredibly tall with heavenly shoulders. If all those men had been standing together, she would have said that this man was the lead guard instead of some important person who had yet to be defined. He was also wearing sunglasses, but as he stepped out, he pulled them off and looked around, his eyes moving over the group of teenage boys until they spotted her, and then stayed.
As he moved forward, the tension seemed to change. It had been violent scary before, but now, as the man moved forward and Emma’s eyes took in this man from head to toe, noting his dark eyes, his almost handsome face centered by a hawk like nose and black eyes, firm but somehow incredibly sexy lips, she knew that the tension was different. Scarier in some way. More personal.