Camden City Police Officer Levi Alistar Raymond has a Superman complex. He is determined to serve and protect—even if that means, risking his career to support his girlfriend, Ava Marie in making sure the cop who murdered her friend is brought to justice. Good cops do exist but if good cops stand by and allow the bad cops to harass, abuse, and kill the very people they are meant to serve and protect, they are not good cops. They’re accomplices.
“I’M THE WIND IN YOUR CAPE…”
Falling in love with a cop was the last thing Ava wanted or needed in her life, but somehow, loving Levi came to her as naturally as breathing. Keeping their relationship intact while everything in the world seems to want to pull them apart feels impossible, but she is determined to be the wind in his cape, no matter what adversity they face.
“Attention all units, we have a 10-32 near the intersection of 7th and Line Streets.”
“Dispatch, this is Alvarez responding the 10-32 on Line Street. Requesting back up.”
Without a second thought, Levi flicked on his radio to respond. “Raymond responding to the 10-32 backup call on Line Street…”
Seventh and Line was a pretty quiet intersection few blocks away from tightly packed row homes and across the street from an abandoned lot that had been made into a neighborhood park.
“Be advised, the suspect is nude and is a possible 51-50.”
Hold up, what? “10-9, dispatch?”
“You heard me, Raymond. He’s nekkid,” the dispatch operator that he knew was Tanya responded with her characteristic cackle.
Levi chuckled. “10-4, dispatch. I’m in route.”
He flipped his lights on and sped toward Line Street.
The streets had been quiet most of the night which was unusual.
Camden was deep in an Indian summer. Temps in the mid-90s in late September were uncharacteristic. Unfortunately, the beautiful weather had brought out the worst in people. Domestic disturbances; fights in the street that escalated to gunfire; road rage that ended with accidents and people chest to chest spitting in each other’s faces. But thankfully, his Thursday night shift had been unexpectedly quiet. As he patrolled, Levi couldn’t decide if it was the sort of quiet that preceded chaos or just a night of reprieve from the mayhem of the week. Either way, he had made it through most of his shift before getting this call for the naked man brandishing a gun on Line Street.
Alvarez was already on scene when Levi arrived. With the door to his cruiser open and gun drawn, Alvarez shouted instructions to the very nude, and very sweaty armed civilian.
“I’m going to tell you again. Put the weapon down!”
“I ain’t putting shit down until you tell that bitch to let me back in my house!” the naked man shouted while pointing his gun at a row home in the middle of the block.
Levi stepped out of his squad car and stood behind the open door to assess the scene.
The block was cordoned off by four squad cars–one of which was his. Three guns and three sets of eyes were trained on the man who stood in the middle of the street who was naked except for a pair of Air Force Ones and what looked like a .38 revolver. Other than that the street was mostly clear aside from a few onlookers who had stepped out onto their porches with their cell phones to record everything—policing the police.
“Willie’s high!” one of them called out. “He ain’t gone hurt nobody!”
Whether Willie would hurt anyone was hard to say, but Levi was going to do his damnedest to de-escalate this scene.
“Willie!” he called out as he slammed the door of his squad car closed and strode confidently toward the naked man with his hands up.
“Raymond! What the fuck are you doing?”
“Calm the fuck down and cover my six, Alvarez,” he barked as he slowed to a stop about ten feet from the armed man.
The stench of cheap whiskey wafted toward him. He looked the man in the eye … he wasn’t a possible head case. He was just drunk and pissed the fuck off.
“Willie,” he called out again.
He swung toward Levi wildly and pointed the gun at his chest.
“Put the gun down!” several authoritative voices yelled.
Levi waved his hands over his head to silence them, but directed his attention at the man in front of him. “Willie… is that your name?” he asked.
“Yeah, that’s me. We know each other?”
“Nah, one of your neighbors over there told me who you were, but Honestly? I feel like I know you pretty well.”
“Why you say that?”
“I mean… you do realize you’re in the street with your dick out, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” Willy said, puffing out his chest. “I’m out here like this cause that bitch—”
“That bitch doesn’t matter right now. Look around you, Willie. Three of my fellow officers have their eyes and weapons trained on you and you are standing naked in the middle of the street with a gun pointed at my chest. Do you wanna die tonight?”
Without turning his head, Willie looked from left to right and his eyes widened for a moment. “Nah, see…you ain’t listening. She put me out on the street like this, man. I mean, I ain’t ashamed of my dick, but she put me out like this—out of my own damn house! This shit ain’t right!”
“I hear you. I get it. But…if you don’t drop that gun, none of that will matter.”
A trickle of sweat rolled down Levi’s neck, under his tee shirt and vest. Heart thudding against the Kevlar he moved in a bit closer, watching the index finger of Willie’s right hand. It was resting lightly on the trigger, but if his grip tightened Levi wanted to be close enough to disarm him.
He kept walking forward until the barrel of the gun was less than an inch away from his chest. Standing this close to the Willie he could now see the fine tremor of fear coursing through his body.
“Just give me the gun, man,” he said gently.
Willie looked to his left and his right one more time. The hand holding the gun began to drop slowly. “Okay, but you have to promise me that you’ll—”
Before the gun even touched Levi’s palm, Alvarez charged in and tackled Willie to the ground.
“You’re always trying to be some kind of superhero,” Leonard, who had been on the opposite side of the street said as he came in to cover Alvarez while he handcuffed Willie.
“Because I’d rather deescalate this scene than shoot a naked man in the street?”
“You could’ve gotten yourself killed,” a familiar voice called out from behind him.
Levi turned to see his sister Indigo jogging toward him with her medic bag in hand.
“Of all the EMTs…” he said with a wry smile.
“That was seriously reckless, Levi,” Indi said with a shake of her head.
“Whatever. It’s better than the alternative.” Dressed in her EMS uniform, Indigo looked a little tired, but he was glad to see her. “What are you doing out here anyway? Did you just drop someone off at Cooper Medical or something?”
Indigo worked for a fire engine company near Willingboro on the opposite end of Camden. They sometimes crossed paths, but it was rare enough for him to consider this an anomaly.
“Nah, it’s been a minute since I saw my brother and then I heard you respond to this call for a possible 51-50 so…”
“Yeah, okay. But the phone line goes both ways, you know—”
“I know. So does the highway.”
“Just sayin’.” Levi shrugged.
“What’s up with this guy?” she asked, gesturing toward Willie. “Is he on something?”
“A neighbor over there said he might be high. I think he might just be high on rage and too much alcohol.”
“I’ll check him out.”
Levi left her to her business and walked up to a row home where a woman stood in the doorway hugging herself.
“Are you Willie’s lady?” he asked as he approached the steps.
“Yeah, unfortunately,” she said.
Her name was Teresa and she said that Willie had been drinking most of the day and things had escalated into a nonsensical argument about her denying him oral sex.
“And then he stripped down and started wagging his dick in my face like some kinda lunatic! So I put his ass out!”
“Hell, yeah. I figured he would just go to his car and get some clothes out of his gym bag, but his crazy ass just grabbed his sneakers and a gun. That just goes to show how drunk he is.”
“Has he threatened to shoot you before?”
Teresa rolled her eyes. “Don’t even try it. As far as you’re concerned, this is an isolated incident. Me and Willie will be fine when his ass sobers up.”
“Are you sure?” he asked, leaning in a bit. Teresa seemed like the sort of woman who could hold her own, but stronger women have been victims of domestic violence and ended up dead.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she said, her gaze steady and unwavering.
Levi waited a few more beats to see if she wanted to say something more. The irritated glare she threw back at him told him that she didn’t.
“Well, Willie is going to lockup. Can you grab some clothes for him?”
Teresa ran inside and came back out with a pair of basketball shorts and a tee shirt.
“So he’s probably gonna be out in the morning, right?” she asked.
Levi sighed. “Willie is facing some serious charges, but he’ll probably be arraigned in the morning. If not then, definitely on Monday.”
Teresa’s shoulders slumped and she looked over Levi’s shoulder to where her man, now discreetly covered with a blanket, was being examined by his sister Indigo.
He reached into his pocket and plucked out a card. “Give me a call Monday afternoon if you have any questions. Okay?”
She nodded and then went back inside. Levi fisted the clothes she’d given him and made his way back to the scene.
“So what’s the word?” Indigo called out as he approached. “Did she say what he was on?”
“Nothing hard. Just said he’s been drinking all day.” He tapped Willie on the shoulder. “Got some clothes for you.”
He and Indigo helped Willie step into his shorts and pulled his shirt over his head.
“You want this one or…?” Alvarez asked.
Levi looked at his watch. Shift was almost over. “You can have this one, man. I’ll see you back at the station.”
Alvarez guided Willie toward his squad car and Levi turned to his sister.
“I didn’t mean to lay into you,” she said.
“No worries. How’ve you been?
“Good. Good. Studying for that paramedic’s test so that’s kind of grueling. How about you? What’s going on? How’re things? How’s life?”
“She’s great! We’re going up to visit her mom this weekend. Lorraine just finished her first 90 days of rehab. And her photography business has picked up a lot in the past few months. Did you know there was an engagement season? She’s had shoots just about every day this week—what?” he asked, stopping short because he noticed the strange look that his sister had on her face. Then it dawned on him. Indi rarely ever asked about Ava. “You said life, didn’t you?”
“Yup. And you heard wife.”
“Fuck…” he said, then laughed it off. “It was just a slip—”
“Yeah, right. Slip my natural black ass. Hurry up and get this shit packed up. I need breakfast and a drink and clearly we need to talk.”
“That’s not really necessary—”
“Shut up, Leelee. Meet me at the spot in thirty.”
“I usually go to Ava’s after—”
“Before you started dating Ava, we met at the diner after shift. Text her and tell her you need to talk to your sister,” she ordered then walked away.
Deciding that it would be easier and that he owed Indi some one-on-one time, he shot Ava a quick text and went out to have breakfast with his lil’ sis.
Levi was closer to Indigo than he was to his brothers, Malcolm Jr. and Gideon. Malcolm Jr.—whom they called Deuce—was six years older and Gideon was two years older. Levi and Indi were only 13 months apart—practically twins. Indi was the whoops! baby. That wasn’t a joke, it was an actual fact. Their mom had let go of the idea of having a little princess after giving birth to three, hard-headed little boys, and decided to go on birth control a few months after having Levi. However, the moment she was on it she began having all of the side effects. But of all the symptoms the headaches were the worst. Their father put up with it for a few months but after coming home in the middle of the day one to many times to his wife sleeping in a darkened bedroom while Levi’s older brother Malcolm watched them, he put his foot down. Odette Raymond was done with birth control pills. They’d have to find some other sort of contraceptive. But they never did get around to it, and ten months later, Indigo was born.
Their usual spot was a burger diner off of Black Horse Pike. It was a diner and sports bar sort of place with burger patties as big as your hand and hand cut fries.When he walked in, Indi waved him over to where she sat, in the corner booth. They came here once or twice a week—or they did before this past summer. He really had neglected his sister lately. It had been a long time since Levi was in this deep over a girl, but he didn’t regret it, nor was he ashamed of it.
“Did you order my usual?”
“Peppercorn burger, fried onions, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo,” Indi said as she waved over the waiter.
“You ready to order those drinks?” the young man asked.
“Yeah, can I get two shots of Hennessy and a pitcher of whatever IPA you have on tap?”
“Sure,” he said with a nod then went off to fill the order.
“Hennessy and a pitcher of beer?” Levi asked. “Are you trying to get me drunk at seven in the morning?”
Indi lasered him with a look. “Don’t act like we haven’t done this before. With the shifts we work, it might as well be seven o’ clock at night. Besides, it’s been months since I’ve seen you and apparently we have a lot to talk about.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, wow. Here we go…”
“Yeah, we’re going there.”
“You can’t possibly have anything negative to say about her—”
“I don’t have anything negative or positive to say. I don’t know the girl.”
Levi sighed. “I’m just trying to take my time with this.”
“I get it. Yeah, I mean, Ava seems sweet and all, but you’re risking everything for a girl that you won’t even let us get to know.”
“So that’s what this is really about. I filed the complaint because Stevenson needs to be—”
“Shhh!” Indi said, her eyes going wide and scanning the room. “You don’t know who’s in here. And yeah, I know why you filed the complaint. But you didn’t feel the need to do that until Ava was involved in that shooting. Don’t you realize how crazy it is for you to do all of this to impress some girl that you’ve only been fucking for a couple of months?”
“Oh, my god. That’s not why I’m doing it. And why are you so worried about who’s sleeping in my bed anyway?’
“Listen, Dru Hill. I’m not worried about who’s sleeping in your bed. I’m worried about you.”
“Why are you worried about me, sis?”
“Are you in love with this girl?” she asked.
He shook his head. “I hate the way you make that sound. Like falling in love is something bad.”
“Listen, I like Ava. She seems like a genuine person. Genuine, big-hearted, and beautiful. But you’re my brother and I’ve seen you lose yourself in every woman you date.”
“I don’t lose myself—”
“You had a proper hoe phase after that break up with Eden so I thought you got it out of your system—”
“Got what out of my system?”
“This thing where you meet a girl, fall in love, and distance yourself from the family because you can’t see anything but her.”
“I don’t know how to say this in a way that will make you understand. Ava is just different.” Levi sat forward in his seat. “Have you ever met someone that made you want to be a better version of yourself?”
Indi grinned. “Nah, I’m pretty amazing already and so are you. Raymonds are made that way—”
“You’re not hearing me. She sees greatness in me and I want to be that for her.”
“I know it’s impossible, but she makes me want to try.”
Indi went quiet and thoughtful for a moment. “I hear you,” his sister said finally then rolled her eyes. “So when are we going ring shopping?”
“Pump the brakes, sis. Me and Ava haven’t even talked about marriage.”
“But clearly it’s on your mind.”
“Yeah, but I’m not going to make the same mistakes I did last time. We’ve been taking it slow and that’s what I wanna keep doing. It’s better for both of us.”
“Well, that’s good to know.”
“Besides…Ava’s been through a lot in the last few months. I don’t want to ask her while all of this trial shit is up in the air.”
For months after Emil’s death, Ava had suffered from nightmares and crippling bouts of anxiety. The nightmares had let up, and she was finally sleeping through the night, but the anxiety was always sizzling right under the surface. Levi couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything to add to that. Being her soft place to fall was all he cared about because she did the same for him.
Indi narrowed her eyes at Levi. “Are you sure that’s it? Or are you just afraid she will say no?”
He felt like he could say with confidence and surety that Ava would be happy to be his wife. But now that Indi had asked the question out loud, he had to wonder…was he really sure?
Levi and Indi ate their burgers and talked for a long while and he realized that he’d missed her too. As pathetic as it sounded, his baby sister was the closest thing he had to a best friend. Levi talked to her about everything and it felt good to tell her about his feelings for Ava and have her accept that she was probably going to be a permanent part of his life.
He lost count of how many shots they had, but by the time they ended up in the parking lot he knew that she might be a little buzzed.
“Do you want me to call you a cab or an Uber or…?”
“Nah. I’m fine. You know my liver is well seasoned. Are you okay?”
“I’m totally okay, but I didn’t drink as much as you.”
Indi chuckled. “Big brother…” she leaned in and gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m fine. I love you. Go home to your woman.”
“Okay,” he said with a laugh. “I love you, too.” But Levi stood by his car and waited until she pulled off before he started Misty and made his way to Ava’s place.
That slip of the tongue or whatever it was, played in his mind on the drive over. Levi hated to admit it, but Indi had a point. She said life and he heard wife and who did that sort of thing if they hadn’t already thought of marrying the woman they were with? How long had he been thinking of Ava as his wife?
And how would that look?
The sound of Misty’s eight cylinder engine pulling up to the curb in front of her building always brought Ava to the big bay window in her apartment. Somehow, someway it had become this silly thing they did whenever he pulled up. She would come to the window and…
Wait for it…
He turned and looked up at the window where he knew she was watching and smiled. She smiled and waved in that same girlish way she had when they ran into each other at the police station the night after they met. This was some sappy Hallmark shit and he knew she lived for it.
He kinda did, too.
After grabbing his duffle bag out of the trunk he took the steps two at a time and was on the other side of her door in less than three excited breaths. Ava met him there, opening it before he could put his key in the lock—a key that he still couldn’t believe she had given him.
“Hey, beautiful,” he said a smile spreading across the mouth she was already kissing.
While he kissed her his mind produced endless greetings like this.
In this apartment. Their first house. Her belly round with his baby. Kids toddling behind her to greet him, too.
Damn…nothing about that felt wrong.
“Hmmm…you taste like Hennessy, beer, and a cheeseburger.”
Levi chuckled. “That is amazingly accurate.”
“You and Indi went to that diner on Black Horse Pike?”
“Yep. And yes, I brought you some fries,” he said, producing a greasy, brown paper bag from behind his back.
“Yassss!” she cheered, then body rolled her way into the kitchen to pop it into the microwave for a couple of seconds. Levi wasn’t sure if he should laugh at how perpetually excited she was about eating or lift her onto the counter to see what else her body would do for a french fry.
“Are you all packed and ready to go?” he asked, dropping his duffle behind the door and kicking off his shoes.
“Yup, all that’s left is my camera and my laptop—”
“Nah. You can bring the camera, but no laptop.”
“Why not? I figured I could do a little work when we had some down time.”
“The only down time you’re gonna have is when you’re down on me. No work this weekend, Ava Marie.”
A slow smile spread across her lips and she put two defiant hands on her tiny waist. “I don’t know if I should be offended or turned on by that demand.”
“Choose to be turned on,” he said. Because he sure as fuck was.
“Hmmm….” she hummed in mock contemplation while tapping her chin. “I guess if you promise to return the favor, I can be convinced to leave my work at home.”
“Are you implying that there has ever been a time when I didn’t return the favor?”
Ava moved in close and slipped her hands around his waist. “Now you know that was a joke. You are very generous with your mouth,” she whispered, before giving him a soft, sweet kiss on the lips.
“That’s what you better say…”
The microwave beeped signaling that her fries were ready. “Is everything okay with Indi?” Ava asked as she pulled the bag out of the microwave and popped a few in her mouth.
“Nothing was wrong. She just missed me. We haven’t seen each other since Labor Day.”
“Oh…I did’t realize—”
“It’s not your fault. I’ve just been busy.”
“Busy spending time with me instead of with the little sister you adore. Shame on you.”
Levi chuckled. “You sound just like her. She accused me of being pussy whipped.”
“I can see that,” she said with a shrug.
“I mean, that I can see how she feels that way. Her big brother who used to spend a lot of time with her starts dating a girl and suddenly he’s too busy? Yves does that shit to me all the time and it pisses me off.”
“So you’re complaining about me spending all of my free time with you?”
“Absolutely not! I want to be around you always.”
Her admission made a quick smile come to his lips. “Me too.”
“But you can’t neglect your friends and family, Levi.”
“So you’ll come with me?”
“Uh…I don’t think that’s what Indi meant. She just wants to spend time with her brother. Not his girlfriend.”
“She also said she would like to get to know you a little better.”
Ava narrowed her eyes at him suspiciously.
“Okay, she didn’t use those exact words, but she did say she should know more about the girl I’m risking it all for.”
“Did she say that?” Ava asked with a chuckle. “Did she actually use those actual words—risking it all?”
“She seems to think I filed the compliant to impress you.”
Ava threw her head back and laughed until tears came to her eyes.
“I’m glad you think this is funny.”
“I’m just saying…it’s kinda ridiculous,” she said, erupting in another round of giggles. “If she knew anything about me at all, she would know that those grey sweatpants you have on right now and what’s in them are the only reason why you’re standing in my kitchen.”
Levi raised a brow. “Is that so?”
“I mean, you’re cute and all. And smart. And courageous. But every time I look at you I find myself thinking…” She paused. A dreamy look came over her face and Levi couldn’t be sure if it was a put on or not.
“I can’t believe that’s really his dick. And oof! What dat mouf do!”
“Ava!” He coughed out a surprised laugh. “Where’d you get that fresh ass mouth?”
She shrugged. “I’m just saying—”
“You’re just saying you wanna know what this mouf do?”
Ava paused for a moment to lick the salt and ketchup off of her fingers then put her hands on her hips. “You gonna show me?”
He licked his lips, and Ava’s eyes tracked his tongue from one corner to the other. “Yeah, I’ll show you.”
Levi dipped down low, scooped her up, and threw her over his shoulder. She squealed and smacked him on the ass.
“Must you always carry me around like a caveman?”
“This is what happens when you sass-mouth,” he said, flopping her onto the bed.
“What happens?” she asked a gleam in her eye.
“Well, first, the sass-mouth is relieved of her smarty-pants!” he said, yanking her leggings and her panties off in one great flourish. “And then…” He dragged her bottom to the edge of the bed and knelt between her legs.
“And then what?” she asked breathlessly.
“And then…she’s relieved of her desire to sass mouth.” One long, slow lick had her knees falling wide and soft curses falling from her lips.
Yeah…he could definitely show her what his mouth did. He’d show her until she was begging him to stop.