"Phone sex?"

"Yeah. Touch yourself, Brit. And then tell me what you're doing. It'll totally turn me on."

"While I'm touching myself, what'll you be doing?" I ask him.

"Choking the gopher. What'd you think I'd do, my homework?"

I laugh. Mostly it's a nervous laugh because we haven't seen each other in a couple of months, we haven't talked all that much, and now he wants to go from "hi, nice to see you after a summer apart" to "touch yourself while I choke the gopher" in one day. I feel like I'm in the middle of a Pat McCurdy song.

"Come on, Brit," Colin says. "Think of it as practice before we do the real thing. Take off your shirt and touch yourself."

"Colin . . . ," I say.


"Sorry, but I'm not into it. Not now, at least."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. You mad?"

"No," he says. "I thought it'd be fun to spice up our relationship."

"I didn't know we were boring."

"School . . . football practice . . . hanging out. I guess after a summer away I'm sick of the same old routine. The entire summer I've been waterskiing, wakeboarding, and off-roading. Things that get your heart racing and blood pumping, you know? Pure adrenaline rush."

"Sounds awesome."

"It was. Brit?"


"I'm ready for that adrenaline rush . . . with you."


I push the guy up against a sweet, shiny black Camaro, one that probably cost more than my mom makes in a year. "Here's the deal, Blake," I say. "You either pay up now, or I break somethin' of yours. Not a piece of furniture or your fuckin' car . . . somethin' you're permanently attached to. Get it?"

Blake, skinnier than a telephone pole and as pale as a ghost, is looking at me as if I just handed him his death sentence. He should have thought about that before he took the Big 8 and bounced without paying up.

As if Hector would ever let that happen.

As if I would ever let that happen.

When Hector sends me to collect, I do it. I may not like doing it, but I do it. He knows I won't do drug deals or break into people's homes or businesses to steal shit. But I'm good at collecting . . . debts, mostly. Sometimes it's people, but those get to be messy affairs, especially because I know what's gonna happen to them once I haul them back to the warehouse to face Chuy. Nobody wants to face Chuy. It's way worse than facing me. Blake should feel lucky I'm the one assigned to look for him.

To say I don't live a squeaky-clean life is an understatement. I try not to dwell on it, the dirty job I'm doing for the Blood. And I'm good at it. Scaring people into paying us what's ours is my job. Technically my hands are clean of drugs. Okay, so drug money does touch my hands quite frequently, but I just hand it over to Hector. I don't use it, I just collect it.

It makes me a pawn, I know. As long as my family is safe, I don't care. Besides, I'm good at fighting. You can't imagine how many people break down with the threat of their bones breaking. Blake is no different than the other guys I've threatened, I can tell by the way he's trying to act cool while his spindly hands are shaking uncontrollably.

You'd think Peterson would be afraid of me, too, but that teacher wouldn't fear me even if I shoved a live grenade into her hands.

"I don't got the money," Blake blurts out.

"That answer ain't gonna cut it, man," Paco chimes in from the sidelines. He likes coming with me. He thinks of it as playing good cop/ bad cop. Except we play bad gang member/worse gang member.

"Which limb you want me to break first?" I ask. "I'll be nice and let you choose."

"Just smoke his sorry ass, Alex, and get this over with," Paco says lazily.

"No!" Blake shouts. "I'll get it. I promise. Tomorrow."

I shove him against the car, my forearm pressing on his throat just enough to scare him. "As if I'm gonna take your word for it. You think we're stupid? I need collateral."

Blake doesn't answer.

I eye his car.

"Not the car, Alex. Please."

I take my gun out. I'm not going to shoot him. No matter who I am and what I've become, I'd never kill anyone. Or shoot anyone. Blake doesn't have to know this, though.

At the first glance of my Glock, Blake holds out his keys. "Oh, God. Please, no."

I snatch the keys out of his hand. "Tomorrow, Blake. Seven o'clock behind the old tracks on Fourth and Vine. Now get outta here," I say, waving my gun in the air for him to run off on foot.

"I've always wanted a Camaro," Paco says after Blake is out of sight.

I toss the keys to him. "It's yours--until tomorrow."

"You really think he'll come up with four G's in a day?"

"Yeah," I tell him, totally confident. " 'Cause that car is worth way more than four G's."

Back at the warehouse, we give Hector the update. He's not happy we haven't collected, but he knows it'll happen. I always come through.

At night, I'm in my room unable to sleep because of my little brother Luis's snoring. By the way he sleeps so soundly, you'd think he didn't have a care in the world. As much as I don't mind threatening loser drug dealers like Blake, I wish to hell I was fighting for things worth fighting for.

A week later I'm sitting on the grass in the school courtyard eating lunch by a tree. Most of the students at Fairfield eat outside until late October, when the Illinois winter forces us to sit in the cafeteria during lunch period. Right now we're soaking up every minute of sun and fresh air while it's still decent outside.

My friend Lucky, with his oversized red shirt and black jeans, slaps me on the back as he parks his butt next to me with a cafeteria tray balanced on his hand. "You geared up for next period, Alex? I swear Brittany Ellis hates you like the plague, man. It's hilarious watchin' her move her stool as far as she can from you."

"Lucky," I say. "She might be a mamacita, but she ain't got nothin' on this hombre." I point to myself.

"Tell your mama that," Lucky says, laughing. "Or Colin Adams."

I lean back against the tree and cross my arms. "I had phys. ed. with Adams last year. Believe me, he's got nada to brag about."

"You still pissed off 'cause he trashed your locker freshman year after you smoked him in the relay in front of the entire school?"

Hell, yeah, I'm still pissed. That one incident cost me a shitload of money having to buy new books. "Yesterday's news," I tell Lucky, keeping up the cool facade I always do.

" 'Yesterdays news' is sittin' right over there with his hot girlfriend."

One look at Little Miss Perfecta and my defenses go up. She thinks I'm a drugged-out user. Every day I've dreaded having to deal with her in chem class. "That chick has a head full of air, man," I say.

"I heard that ho was dissin' you to her friends," a guy named Pedro says as he and a bunch of other guys join us carrying either trays from the cafeteria or food they brought from home.

I shake my head, wondering what Brittany said and how much damage control I'll have to do. "Maybe she wants me and doesn't know any other way to get my attention."

Lucky laughs so hard everyone within a few yards stares at us. "There's no way Brittany Ellis would get within two feet of you on her own free will, giley, let alone date you," he says. "She's so rich the scarf around her neck last week pro'bly cost as much as everythin' in tu casa."

That scarf. As if the designer jeans and top weren't fashionable enough, she'd probably added the scarf to showcase how rich and untouchable she is. Knowing her, she had it professionally dyed to match the exact shade of her sapphire eyes.

"Hell, I bet you my RX-7 you can't get into her panties before Thanksgiving break," Lucky challenges me, breaking my wayward thoughts.

"Who'd want those panties?" I say. They're probably designer, too, with her initials embroidered on the front.

"Every single dude in this school."

Do I need to state the obvious? "She's a snow girl." I'm not into white chicks, or spoiled chicks, or chicks whose idea of hard labor is painting their long fingernails a different color each day to match their designer outfits.

I pull a cigarette from my pocket and light it, ignoring Fairfield's no-smoking policy. I've been smoking a lot lately. Paco pointed it out yesterday night when we hung out.

"So what if she's white? Come on, Alex. Don't be an idiot. Look at her."

I take a glance. I admit she's got it goin' on. Long, shiny hair, aristocratic nose, slightly tanned arms with a hint of muscle in her biceps to make you wonder if she works out, full lips that when she smiles you think world peace is possible if everyone had her smile.

I shove those thoughts from my mind. So what if she's hot? She's a first-degree bitch. "Too skinny," I blurt out.

"You want her," Lucky says, leaning back on the grass. "You just know, like the rest of us Mexicanos from the south side, that you can't have her."

Something inside me clicks on. Call it my defense mechanism. Call it cockiness. Before I can switch it off, I say, "In two months I could have a piece of that ass. If you really wanna bet your RX-7, I'm in."

"You're trippin', man." When I don't answer, Lucky frowns. "You serious, Alex?"

The guy will back down, he loves his car more than his mama. "Sure."

"If you lose, I get Julio," Lucky says, his frown turning into a wicked grin.

Julio is my most prized possession, an old Honda Nighthawk 750 motorcycle. I rescued it from a dump and turned it into a sleek ride. Rebuilding the bike took me forever. It's the only thing in my life I've made better instead of destroying.

Lucky is not backing down. Time to either back down myself or play the game. The problem is, I've never backed down . . . not once in my life.

The most popular white chick at school would sure as hell learn a lot by hanging with me. Little Miss Perfecta said she'd never date a gang member, but I bet no Latino Blood ever tried to get into those designer pants.

Easy as a fight between Folks and People--rival gangs on a Saturday night.

I bet all it'll take for Brittany to come around is a bit of flirting. You know, that give-and-take wordplay that heightens your awareness of the opposite sex. I can kill two birds with one stone: get back at Burro Face by taking his girl and get back at Brittany Ellis for having me called into the principal's office and dissin' me in front of her friends.

Might even be fun.

I imagine the entire school witnessing the pristine white chick drooling over the Mexicano she vowed to hate. I wonder how hard she'll fall on that tight white ass when I'm done with her.

I hold out my hand. "Deal."

"You gotta show proof."

I take another drag of my cigarette. "Lucky, what do you want me to do? Pluck out one of her fuckin' pubes?"

"How'd we know it's hers?" Lucky responds. "Maybe she's not a real blond. Besides, she pro'bly gets one of those Brazilian wax jobs. You know, where every thin' is--"

"Take a picture," Pedro suggests. "Or video. I bet we could make muchos billetes on that thing. We can title it Brittany Goes South of the Border."

It's trash-talkin' times like these that give us a bad rep. Not that rich kids don't talk trash, I'm sure they do. But when my friends go at it, it's no-holds-barred. To be honest, I think my friends are damn entertaining when they're ragging on someone else. When they're ragging on me, I don't find it half as funny.