Your Sister’s A Spy
by Ben Johnson
(Editor’s note: this is an extract from Ben’s upcoming book Blood Silver. It’s his second novel in what looks to be an ongoing dramatic series involving crime and supernatural happenings in the modern-day San Diego suburban canyons and neighborhoods of Mission Hills and is about ‘what ties all things together’, is due out soon. His debut book, A Shadow Cast In Dust, was released earlier this year to widespread critical acclaim.)
Rick Oca and Eddie cracked their bottles on the roots of a fig tree in the center of the park. “Careful what you say. Little Crow might be listening,” said Eddie.
Eddie had given Pearl the nickname after he’d been thwarted trying to rip off the neighborhood liquor store. He’d never proven that she was the one that blew the whistle on his beer pilfering, done in the store’s one blind spot from the cameras stationed throughout, but he just knew. She was always around.
He hadn’t checked that day, feeling comfortable, but for some reason one of the cameras had been moved, and he’d been caught on tape. The next time he had gone back to the store he had been given two options; pay back what they had calculated was missing and be able to come back afterward, or go to jail and be banned from the store, in which case he would still be held liable for the expenses. There was no choice. He couldn’t run. Everybody in the neighborhood knew where he lived due to the regional fame of “Rockin’” Royce Calhoun, his father, an Olympic boxer from years past.
He didn’t put it together at first, but each time he saw Pearl in the vicinity of something, the situation went south. Now, in the park, drinking quarts of malt liquor with Rick, he brought up the subject.
“Your sister’s a spy or something. Like a narc.”
“Dude,” said Rick, shaking his head. “She’s not a narc. She’s a twelve-year-old girl that thinks she’s Sherlock Holmes.”
“Well, whatever. Every time she hangs around, well . . . ”
“Like I said, twelve. You gotta watch what you say around kids, dude. Plus she’s insanely smart, and actively tries to listen.”
“Like a little crow,” said Eddie. He looked up into the trees, into the eyes of a black bird amidst the branches. It warbled, and his stomach felt queasy. “Little Crow. That’s your sister’s Indian name.”
“Are you for real? Pearl is her Indian name. We’re fucking part Ipai.”
“What is that?”
“An Indian name.”
“I thought you were Mexican.”
“That too. Let’s just move on. Pearl will ruin your plans, so be careful what you say. It’s not that hard to avoid her if you’re aware.”
“Little Crow,” said Eddie, tasting the words. “It wouldn’t surprise me if she was the one who put all that shit on my porch.”
“I doubt it.”
“Yeah, but you don’t know.”
Rick shrugged. It would be just like Pearl to do something like that, actually, but he kept it to himself.
“Besides,” said Eddie, “little crows have a thing for garbage.”
“Easy with that little crow shit, dude, seriously. What did you want to talk to me about? Not my sister, hopefully.”
“Not at all, okay. Anyway . . . ” Eddie’s voice drifted off. Rick followed his gaze to a small black-and-gold dog across the grass in front of them. A forty-pound baja mutt with a black bandana around its neck. It whined, staring at Eddie.
The sound of retching made Rick turn his head. Eddie was puking his malt liquor into the sprawling roots. When Rick looked back, the dog disappeared behind a copse of miniature palms.
Pearl, hiding amidst the palms, was shocked. The little dog did something to Eddie, that neanderthal. She’d seen the little dog before, with the cop’s kid from the news. Just yesterday.
She’d been spying on Eddie’s house one day when she saw Rupert Figgins the first time. Three months ago, before all the news stories. He was about her own age, taller and stringy. Everyone was taller than Pearl, it seemed. He covered the porch with garbage and dog shit and rang the doorbell with a stick, then hid across the street and watched. She’d told her brother Raul all about it, except for the part where the boy moved like a blur after he rang the bell, so fast her eyes couldn’t follow. This dog was with him then, too.
Then came the news, and after that she’d been trying to find him until yesterday when he was being tracked by that spidery kid who was missing a finger. This time he moved even faster, so fast he wasn’t there. She couldn’t tell anyone about that. She wouldn’t even tell her grandfather, if he were around to listen.
Now, with Eddie throwing up his beer, the little dog walked past her hiding place where she had been reading lips. It looked right at her without breaking stride, gave a muffled bark, and took off like a shot across the one-way road into the pine trees.
Keeping the palms between herself and Eddie, Pearl picked up her bike and followed. She got as far as the pine break before she lost sight of the dog over the cusp of the canyon. When she saw it again it was up the other side, almost to the golf course. She pedaled as fast as she could, careful she wasn’t re-entering her brother and Eddie’s line of sight.
A mockingbird squawked to her from a bouncing branch. She looked as she passed by, and couldn’t tear her eyes from it. Her front tire hit a root in the path and she ended up crashing off the trail and rolling into the weeds.
“Dang, bird,” she said. “Why’d you do that?”
The bird screeched and took off on the trail of the dog, landed on another bush and looked back. Pearl dusted herself off and picked her bike up. It flew away down the wooded hill, and when she reached the branch it had been on, she searched for it, but the bird was gone.