A tall, slim brother watched Onita as she stumbled, coming fast toward him but listing to the left like a telephone pole blindsided by an out-of-control car. He and the shiny black Beemer with the gold rims he leaned against were the first two signs Moon Dog was around, so Onita was glad to see him. She tried to remember his name as she wiped her nose on her T-shirt and nodded a greeting.
“Hey, baby, you alright?” she sang out, always civil like her mama taught her, though she had things on her mind.
She might as well have been a piece of drifting trash. The boy’s face, he couldn’t have been more than sixteen, didn't change expression. He scratched at his chin with the antenna of the cellphone in his hand as he looked into the distance. Onita knew that if a squad car showed up he would speed dial Moon Dog’s number and warn him. What she didn't know was why Moon Dog bothered with the precaution. The cops hardly ever came this deep into Holliston Place and Moon Dog never carried anyway. No self-respecting dealer carried, that was for the small-fries to do. The most any cop would find on Moon Dog was green, a lot of it. Moon Dog loved the feel and smell of bills, the newer the better. Onita had once watched him pull out his clip, peel a hundred dollar bill off and hand it to a kid from her block. "Buy yourself something nice," he'd said, and the next day the kid was in head to toe Hilfiger. That was the kind of thing bound the kids, made it so they wouldn’t roll on him, that and plain old-fashioned fear.
Onita walked on, holding her head high like she didn't care about being dissed by a boy just a few years younger than her. Wasn't anyone around to see anyhow, it was too early. The sun was barely up and not too many people lived on this block. That was probably why Moon Dog had chosen it as his base.
Four houses down from the Beemer, she came to a stop and took a backward look at the boy, who now watched her impassively. Turning away, she kept her eyes on the ground and doubled back to the rear of the third house on the street, carefully picking her way through the waist-high weeds, avoiding the broken bottles, vials, and empty syringes. The back of the third townhouse was as boarded up as the front but one sheet of plywood had been removed, only the two by fours hung from their nails. Onita ducked under and through. It took a couple minutes for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. She swayed a little before putting out a hand behind her to lean on the planks for support. The ringing in her ears was even louder in the still, moldy air of the abandoned house. Onita tugged and pulled at her earlobes to make the ringing go away but it only got better for as long as she tugged and pulled, and she couldn’t stand around doing that all day.
The building looked empty if you didn’t count the Styrofoam containers and other garbage lying around. The absence of junkies, holed up looking for heaven in a pipe or just for a roof over their heads while they slept, was the third way she knew Moon Dog was around. He didn't like druggies hanging around him, said they made his skin crawl. His father was a junkie who ran the other way when he saw Moon Dog coming. The man was found once, his face like tenderized meat, lying in a small pool of his own blood. He never said who did it but everyone around the way knew he’d tried to steal a dime bag off of one of Moon Dog’s street dealers that morning. Family or no family, Moon Dog did not ramp when it came to his money.
Onita didn't try to be in Moon Dog’s way too often, only when she didn’t have the green and wanted to persuade him to let her have some credit. She was one of his first customers; it was the least he could do.
She stumbled through the ground floor rooms and headed up the stairs.
Moon Dog was sitting at a table with three of his boys in the first room she came to. He called them his soldati. It was Italian for soldiers, he would say, if anybody asked what the word meant, but the Italians left the twelve square mile area of Holliston Place alone. Moon Dog wasn’t talking about the real ones anyway; he was talking about the ones he saw on the screen. He was Scarface’s number one fan. Moon Dog, himself, wasn't from Holliston Place or even from the South Bronx. He lived with his mother and five sisters on 6th and Pine, almost another world away. But here was where you started if you wanted to prove right away that you were the hardest motherfucker in the city. Holliston Place was New York's crack capital. If you began dealing here and you were still alive six months down the line, weren't many who would dare touch you, cops included, rival dealers included. It was now going on Moon Dog’s eighth month and business was good. He was devouring turf one line at a time, one block at a time. Soon he would reach into Roy Hill and the projects there. He had five, six kids doing his running and ten or so touts scattered on lucrative corners.
"Where my baby?" Onita demanded, feinting left then running right and away from the boy trying to block her way to Moon Dog.
"Woman, what you talking ‘bout?" Moon Dog didn't even look up from his domino game. His black body shirt was stretched tight over his chest and his bulging biceps. Word was he spent hours in the state-of-the-art gym he’d installed in the basement of his mother’s house but Onita was convinced his build had more to do with prescription medicines than machines.
"I know you got my baby. Trina done told me you took him last night. Where he at? I want my baby." Onita's chest heaved. She lunged at him but the boy held her around her waist. She didn’t dare try to hit him. "Moon Dog, I was getting you your money. That's what I be doing all of last night. That's why I wasn't home. I was getting you your money. You didn't have to take Hani. Where he at?" Onita pressed her hands against her ears. They were ringing like she’d been standing next to the speakers at a rock concert all night. It was a side effect of the crack she'd smoked that morning before getting home to find her baby, her life, gone.
Moon Dog looked up at her. She held his gaze, didn’t drop her eyes. After a long minute, he shrugged.
"He over there." Moon Dog nodded in the direction of a doorway to another room.Onita half-ran, half-walked, almost falling. The second room was darker, dimmer but she could
make out a couple mattresses. There were clothes strewn everywhere. This was where Moon Dog crashed when, for whatever reason, home was out of the question. Onita sank down on her knees and pushed aside the bundle almost covering her child's head.