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Chapter 17

WISH FULFILMENT Mack woke up lying on the white couch with Yolanda staring into his eyes. "He's awake," she said.

Ceese was apparently kneeling beside the couch near Mack's head. "I can see that."

"You really ought to speak to me with more respect," said Yolanda. "Or I'll make you fall in love with me."

"I'm already in love with you," Mack said. He hadn't realized it until he said it.

"Of course you are," said Yolanda. "Because Oberon is."

"He locked you up in a glass jar and he loves you?" asked Ceese.

"He locked me up in a glass jar because I was imprisoning him under the earth."

Mack closed his eyes.

"He's gone again," said Ceese.

"No, he's just got his feelings hurt," said Yolanda. "It's something Will Shakespeare taught me to recognize. Mortals get sad when their love doesn't love them in return."

"I had a terrible dream," said Mack. "A cold dream."

"Which would explain the shivering," said Ceese.

"I have these dreams," said Mack.

"I know," said Ceese. "You explained it before."

"I started having this one... a couple of years ago. But it's different from the others. I don't know who it is. And up to now I never let it finish. This time I couldn't stop it."

"What does that mean? That the wish came true?" asked Ceese.

"I don't know. Yes, maybe it does. It always did before."

Yo Yo stroked his face. "Come on, little changeling, tell me what you saw."

"He's not that little," murmured Ceese.

"Hush yo' mouth, child," Yo Yo murmured back.

"I was going on stage. In a huge arena. The first time I thought maybe I was like a gladiator because it felt like some kind of contest and I was very nervous. I was afraid I might lose. But then I realized that I was alone, going out there alone in front of the crowd, and they were chanting but I couldn't hear anything. It's like I'm deaf in the dream."

"Any of your other dreams like that? Deaf I mean?" asked Ceese.

"Don't be such a cop and ask a lot of stupid questions," Yo Yo suggested.

"Don't be a fairy queen and boss people around," said Ceese.

"I can always hear in my dreams, and in this one I could hear too, just not the crowd. What I heard was the beating of wings."

"A bird?" asked Ceese.

"What's the wish?"

"I told you. It's hungry. I go out there and I'm so hungry and I see all these people shouting and chanting and waving only they don't make a sound and I can barely taste them, so they just make me hungrier. I hated this dream. I got out of it as fast as I could. Only this time when I tried, all I did was carry the dream with me. So it combined with my escape dream. It became the same dream. And when I looked out the window of the car in my dream, I saw the crowd from the other dream. So I hadn't gotten away like I usually can. And then I felt something slap the car away, just whooosh and it's gone, and there I am alone on the stage of that arena, and suddenly there's something under me.

Something like a motorcycle seat. Or a horse. It moved me forward and suddenly we were right out over the audience, swooping around them, their faces looking up and filled with love and madness and it was frightening, the way we flew. I could feel the wings beating now, and hear them of courseand that's when I first realized the sound was wings. I was riding something but I couldn't see what it was."

"It was a dragon," said Yo Yo quietly.

"I guess it was," said Mack, and the realization made him sad, because he knew he should be fighting the dragon, not riding on it.

"Go on," said Ceese.

"That's it," said Mack. "That was the dream. After that it just stopped making sense."

"Tell me anyway," said Yo Yo.

"Okay, but it don't mean a thing," said Mack. "I was soaring over the crowd and I looked down and I could feel their love. Their need. Like this woman with a baby. She looked at me and stuck her finger down her baby's throat and pulled out a grape. Then she held it up to me like an offering, like it was a jewel. And a man was reaching up to us and with one beat of a wing the... dragon, the thing I was riding, it blew him clear across the arena and landed him right on top of a woman who hugged him like he was her long-lost lover. Weird stuff. Not like cold dreams. So I thought the cold dream was over."

"It wasn't over," said Yo Yo. "Oberon came into your dream and took control. He's started using the power he put in you, Mack. The power you've gathered from all those dreams. He isn't letting you plug up the stream anymore. He wants the wishes to come true now. He's letting out the flood."

"I know," said Mack, and he started to cry as he remembered. "I tried to stop it. But dream after dream. I'd hear the beating of the wings but I was into an old dream, one I've known for years.

Sabrina Chum, that girl with the really big nose, in her dream she's always an elephant and comes up to a rhinoceros and it saws off her trunk. I hate that dream, the sawing-off part, and I always end the dream before we get there, but this time I saw her trunk lying on the ground. And then the beating of the wings and I was in Ophelia McCallister's dream, where she walks out onto the lawn of her house and there's her husband and he holds out his hand and hugs her and kisses her." Mack shuddered.

"Old man McCallister died a long time ago," said Ceese.

"I just know how these dreams come true," said Mack. "I can think of a lot of ways she could have her husband in her arms again but none of them is very nice."

"Any other dreams?"

"Sherita Banks," said Mack. "She just wants boys to think she's cute. She isn't. She's got a really big butt like her mother. Beyond what most guys would find attractive. Family curse, kind of. But she doesn't dream that the butt gets small, she dreams that boys come up and put their hands on her butt and tell her she's beautiful."

"Sounds kind of sweet," said Yo Yo.

"No," said Mack. "That dream could come true, all right, but it wouldn't be sweet. It could be a gang getting up a train on her."

Ceese nodded. "Anybody else?"

"I was just starting Professor Williams's dream. Not the one where he kills Bag Man. The one where he's listening while people recite his poems. Only this time of course I didn't hear the poems, I just heard the wings beating only that's when they stopped. That's when I woke up."

"So you think those wishes came true?" asked Ceese.

"They didn't always come true back when I didn't know how to stop them," said Mack. "But this time, when I didn't have any control, when I was flying on the back of that thing from dream to dreamI thought, They're coming true. I knew it. Like Yo Yo said. He wants the wishes to come true. He was going from dream to dream."

"And then he stopped when he got to Professor Williams."

Mack nodded. "Yes, but I don't care where he stopped, I care what he did. We got to get on the phone. We got to call people. Like when Tamika was inside the waterbed. If I'd known what was happening, I could have called Mr. Brown and woke him up and told him to look for Yolanda in the water."

"Right," said Ceese, "but then he might have run outside and headed for a pool and he would never have found her at all. I mean, what do we warn people of?"

"We got to try," said Mack. "We got to phone people. We got to go places and try to stop things."

"You got a phone here that works?" Ceese asked Yo Yo.

"No," said Ceese. "But my mom does. Look, I'll go home and we'll start calling. Find out about Sherita. Where she is. I can get a patrol car to go there and stop it if it's really happening like you think. A gang rape."

"What about Sabrina and her nose?" asked Mack.

"I'll call her family. Maybe she's cut herself. Maybe they can still get her to a hospitalreattach it."

"Then why you sitting here, boy?" asked Yo Yo.

"Mrs. McCallister won't answer the phone," said Mack. "She turns it off at night."

"Then you two go there while I go home. We had... who was it?... Sabrina, Mrs. McCallister, Sherita Banks, Professor Williams, and then you woke up. I'm calling everybody and you're going over to McCallisters' house."

By the time Mack got up from the couch and outside the house, he could see Ceese already going around the bend in the road on his way down the hill to home.

Then Yo Yo brought the motorcycle out of the garage and revved it up while Mack got on behind her.

Across the street, the back of the Joneses' house looked out over the street at the bottom of the hairpinand Yo Yo's house. Now Moses Jones was out on the back deck stark naked yelling down at them. Mack couldn't hear what he was saying because the motorcycle was so loud. But he could see how he nearly had a fit, jumping up and down and screaming after Yo Yo raised one finger. It wasn't even the bad finger. But maybe in the dark old Moses Jones couldn't tell. He was still jumping up and down when they roared on up the hill to McCallisters'.

Ophelia McCallister lived in the house she had shared with her husband before he died. It was right at the top of Cloverdale, just a couple of houses from where the road dead-ended at the always-locked and often-climbed gateway leading into Hahn Park. Mack got off the bike before it even stopped, pushing himself up like in a game of leapfrog and hopping up so the bike kept going underneath him. But of course he still had a lot of momentum, so he staggered forward and since Yo Yo had just brought the bike to a stop, he crashed into her.

She switched the motor off.

Across the street two neighbors had come to their windows to look at the motorcycle and they didn't seem too happy. Though at least they weren't naked and jumping up and down like Moses Jones had been.

They got to the door and Mack rang the bell and then he knocked loud and started shouting,

"Mrs. McCallister!"

Now the neighbors were out of their houses. "What are you doing?" demanded Harrison Grand, the next-door neighbor on the park side. "Do you know what time it is?"

"I don't know," said Mr. Grand. And then he looked at Yo Yo and suddenly his face brightened.

"She keeps a spare key."

"Where?" asked Mack.

Harrison Grand immediately jogged to the juniper next to the front door and lifted up a rock that turned out to be a fake. He took out a key and within a few moments he and Mack and Yo Yo were searching the house.

"She isn't here," said Grand.

"I thought she would be," said Mack.

"Well she was," said Yo Yo. "Her bed's been slept in. But she's not in it now."

"Why would she leave?" asked Grand.

"Mr. Grand," said Mack, "you know where Mr. McCallister's buried?"

"Well you can bet it ain't Forest Lawn," he said.

Again he glanced at Yo Yo, and again he was suddenly enlightened. "I remember she has a cab come and drive her there every week but I took her once a few years ago and it's... it's..."

He walked to the calendar on the wall over the phone. He pointed to the name and address of the cemetery that had given it out to their customers, including Mrs. McCallister. "But you don't think she's gone to visit her husband's grave in the middle of the night."

Mack knew what would probably happen but he tried to explain anyway. "I know this sound crazy but I think she's with her husband now."


"No, alive. But with him. You know where his plot is?"

"I don't think so."

Yo Yo touched his shoulder. "Yes you do."

"Yes," he said. "I do."

"Can you take me there?" asked Mack.

"Right now?" he asked.

"You saying she's down inside the"

He fell silent for a moment, Yo Yo's hand on his shoulder. Then he got an urgent look about him and took off running for the garage of his own house. "Come on, Mack! You come along and help me dig that coffin up!"

"Better get a crowbar to open the lid!" cried Mack as he followed him over to his yard, his driveway. Before they got a pick and shovel and crowbar into the back of his SUV, they could hear Yo Yo's motorcycle taking off at top volume.

Ralph Chum was working late on a client's quarterlies when the phone rang. He picked it up.

"Barbara?" he said.

"Mr. Chum?" asked a male voice.

"Who is this?"

"This is Cecil Tucker, sir. I apologize for calling this late, but it might be an emergency." Ralph vaguely knew that Ceese Tucker was a policeman. Sabrina had mentioned itshe once had a thing for him, though of course it came to nothing.

A policeman calls at this time of night.

"Might be? Is something wrong with Barbara? Was there an accident?"

"Nothing like that," said Ceese. "Sir, is your daughter Sabrina at home?"

"She's asleep, Ceese." Was he actually asking her out, this long after her high school crush on him?

"I know she is, sir. I just wanted to make sure she was home. Sir, would you be willing to go and check on her?"

"Check on her? What are you talking about?"

"Sir, this is going to sound insane. Or like a cruel joke. But I assure you it is not a joke, and I am not insane. Please go into her room and look at her face."

"Look at her"

"Make sure that nothing has happened to her face."

"What could happen to her face!"

"I told you it would sound crazy. All I can tell you is, think of how much Curtis Brown wishes he had checked on his daughter Tamika a little bit earlier."

"Please check your daughter, sir."

Ralph knew that this was insane, but Ceese sounded so grave, and the thought of this somehow being linked to what happened to poor Tamika Brown... "All right," he said, but he still let annoyance come out in his voice.

"With the light on, sir," said Ceese.

"Yes, with the light on!"

Angrily, Ralph Chum got up from his desk, left his office, and padded through the house on slippered feet until he got to Sabrina's room. From the door he could see that she was fine. There was no need to turn the light on. This was some stupid prank, and now that Ceese was a cop, Ralph could complain about him to somebody with more influence on him than his parents.

He turned away but now the fear came to the surface. Was it possible that Curtis Brown was telling the truth? That something strange and terrible had happened to Tamika and, as he said when he wept on the stand, he might have saved her in time if only he had believed that such things were even possible.

What was it Ceese wanted him to check for? Poor Sabrina, with her nose that seemed to spread halfway across her face. Should he wake her up by turning on the light, and then tell her that Ceese Tucker wanted him to look at her face to see if anything was wrong with it? He knew what Sabrina would say: Of course something's wrong with it. Even plastic surgeons refuse to work on it because narrowing my nostrils enough to make a difference would leave scars and make me look like a monster instead of just a freak. And then she'd cry. And when Barbara got home from her office retreat she'd be furious at him and...

And he had to look.

He turned on the light. Sabrina stirred a little but did not wake. Ralph walked into the room and looked at her. She was lying on her side, facing the wall. Ralph couldn't really see. When he leaned over her, his own shadow obscured her features.

So he sighed, reached out, and pulled at her shoulder.

She rolled over and opened her eyes.

There was a growth the size and texture of a walnut on the right side of her nose, the side that had been on the pillow.

"What is that," murmured Ralph.

"What?" said Sabrina.

"There's something growing there. Near your... eye."

"Ow," she said.

Where she had touched it, a little blood came to the surface.

"What is it, Daddy? It hurts. Oh, it hurts."

"Get up and get dressed," he said. "We're taking you to the emergency room."

"What is it!"

"Something growing there," said Ralph. "And we're getting you to a doctor right now. I'll wake your sister. We can't leave her here alone."

Before he got to Keisha's room, though, he remembered Ceese Tucker and went back to his office and picked up the receiver.

"How did you know?" he asked.

"Is she all right?"

"Don't you already know she isn't?"

"I hoped I was wrong. What is it?"

"She's got a growth on her nose. It bleeds when she touches it."

"Get her to a hospital right now," said Ceese.

"That's what I'm doing. I'm hanging up now. But we're going to talk, you and I."

"Yes sir. God be with your daughter, sir."

Ralph hung up and went back to wake Keisha so they could take Sabrina to the hospital.

When Mike Herald pulled his patrol car up in front of the house it was obvious there was some kind of party going on insidethe bass from the music was throbbing so loud that he could feel it even before he turned off the engine. But nobody had called to complain. This was a gang neighborhood, and they all knew better than to call in the cops.

But apparently Ceese Tucker didn't know any better. A rape in progress? How would he know that? Who would have called? These gangbangers raped girls all the time. It was like an initiation for the girl. A party favor for the boys. Nobody ever reported it. And it would be worth his life to walk up to that door alone.

Backup was coming. Maybe two minutes away.

There were a couple of kids already out on the street, and of course they noticed the LAPD

vehicle. One of them was starting to sidle toward the house. To give warning.

Mike got out of the car, drew his weapon, and pointed at the boy with his other hand. Not aiming the gun at him, just pointing. The boy froze.

Mike looked around quickly. No weapons being pointed at him. Nobody was on alertthis wasn't a drug deal or anything they planned. Just a party. Didn't expect cops to show up.

Another LAPD vehicle turned the corner, moving fast. His backup was here. He should still wait till they were out of the car, till they could cover the back door and go in in force. But the girl was in there, and maybe there was a chance to stop this thing before it got too bad for her.

So he jogged to the door. It was a piece of crap like all the materials used in these houses. He stepped back and stomped his foot hard against the door just beside the knob. The frame broke and let the door swing free. The music was so loud nobody heard it. He also couldn't hear if the other cops were running toward him or not. Couldn't hear anything except the music.

He moved into the house. Nobody in the living room, where the stereo made the cheap furniture tremble like an earthquake.

In the kitchen was a girl making a sandwich. Probably the girlfriend. Her brother was raping her friend in the back room and she was making a sandwich. She had her back to the kitchen door and didn't hear him. He knew he should neutralize her firstget her down on the floor, out of harm's waybut he let her be and moved on toward the bedrooms.

Now the music wasn't quite so loud and he could hear a girl's voice. "Please, God, no." Or was she saying, "Please, Rod, no"? Wasn't the boy's name Rod?

The door was slightly ajar. Six boys, none of them older than fourteen, were gathered around a bed, laughing and leaning in, and some of them were holding the arms and legs of a girl who had been stripped from the waist down. She was crying, and one of the youngest boys was poised over her.

"Come on, Sherita, I want you so bad."

It was as if the words had plunged a dagger into her heart, the way she sobbed. But she also held still. Surrendering now.

Mike shoved the boy nearest to him, sending him sprawling across Sherita's body, knocking Rod aside. The other boys whirled around to find Mike training his gun on each of them in turn. "All of you little bastards get down on the floor with your hands on your heads. Right now!"

No chance for them to put on their brave gang faces. No chance to go for whatever weapons they might have had.

"She wanted it!" Rod was screaming. "She just showed up here, she just showed up and she Mike pushed the barrel of the pistol into his face and Rod dropped to the floor.

Mike looked at the youngest of the boys. "You. Get up and put something over her privates.

Right now!"

He did.

The stereo went silent in the living room.

Another officer stood beside him, gun drawn. "You crazy, coming in here without backup?"

"Stopped them before they got into her," said Mike.

"Well, then, it's only attempted, isn't it, you moron," said the other cop.

"Let's ask her if she wished I waited," said Mike.

Sherita rolled onto her side and curled into a ball, weeping. The young boy untucked a corner of the sheet and brought it up over her rear end. Her butt was so big that it wouldn't stay, it slipped off.

"That's all right," said Mike, holstering his weapon and putting a hand on her shoulder. He helped her off the bed, then pulled the whole sheet off and helped her wrap it around herself. Then he kicked a couple of the boys to get them out of the way so they could walk out.

The girl from the kitchen was standing in the hallway, holding her sandwich with two bites out of it. She looked genuinely horrified. "Sherita," she said, "when you get here? What's going on?"

"Your friend was about to be raped by Rod," said Mike savagely. "And don't pretend you didn't know about it. Don't pretend you didn't help him set it up."

"Swear to God!" she said. "That little shit was going to rape her?"

Mike brushed her aside, bouncing her off the wall just a little as he continued to convey Sherita Banks down the hall and into the living room where the other cop, the one who had turned off the stereo, was watching.

"I'm taking her home," said Mike. "I'll get her statement."

Ceese finished his calls with his mother frantically demanding that he tell her what was going on.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," he said.

"Try me!" she demanded.

"You're waking people up from a sound sleep because Mack had a nightmare?"

"Same kind of nightmare he had the night Tamika Brown got herself inside her parents'

waterbed," said Ceese. "Same kind of dream as when Mr. Tyler got hit on the head by an I-beam cause his daughter Romaine wished he could be home with her all the time."

"What are you saying? That somebody's murdering people?"

"I'm saying somebody's making wishes come true in a sick, twisted, evil way, and it's happening tonight."

"Wishes?" she said. "Like in fairy tales?"

"No," said Ceese. "Wishes like in hell, where the devil tortures sinners by making their wishes come true."

"But Tamika Brown wasn't a sinner!"

He couldn't believe she was arguing religion with him. "Who says the devil plays fair?" said Ceese. "Now I got to go."

"Where, at this time of night?"

Ceese had his keys in his hand and was at the front door. "Professor Williams didn't answer the phone."

"All this comes from Mack Street's dreams?"

"There's more to the boy than most folks thought."

"He's got the evil eye, that's what."

Ceese whirled on her. "Don't say that," he said. "It's a lie."

She flashed with anger. "You calling your mama a liar?"

"Don't you ever speak against Mack Street," he said. "It's Mack saving all these people's lives. If we get there in time to save them."

Grand Harrison had the flashlight because he knew the way, more or less. Mack and Yo Yo followed close behind. Mack had been in cemeteries before but never at night with shadows looming and something ugly waiting for them when they got to Ophelia McCallister's husband's grave. He did have the queen of the fairies with him, but apparently she didn't have all her powers, since her soul was locked up in a glass jar hanging in midair in a clearing in Fairyland.

Then again, maybe she was lying. Puck always did, and he was the only other fairy Mack knew personally, so maybe lying was just something fairies did. He didn't intend to get himself killed just to prove she was wrong.

"Here it is," said Grand. "But look, the ground is completely undisturbed. Nobody's done anything here."

"Dig," said Yo Yo.

"No! That's just"

Yo Yo put a hand on his cheek. "For me."

Mack was amazed. The man's whole face and posture and everything changed. He was in love with her, right on the spot. Completely out of his mind crazy for her. Like a puppy dog.

"You want me to dig?" he said. "How deep?"

"Let's find Mr. McCallister's coffin," said Yo Yo.

And so they dug. That is, Mack and Grand dug, Grand wielding the pick to loosen things up, and Mack shoveling and then Grand joining in with the other shovel, working fastMack because he knew there wouldn't be much air in that coffin, and Grand because he was showing off for his new lady love.

"Yo Yo," said Mack, "you going to kill this man if he don't slow down."

"Grand," she said lazily, "take it a little slower. Don't want you getting a heart attack on me."

Grand Harrison grinned like a jack-o'-lantern and slowed down just a little.

And after a while they hit wood. They couldn't lift the lid until they cleared away the dirt the whole length and breadth of the coffin, and even when they'd done that, it took serious work with the crowbar to get the thing open. It wasn't a cheap coffin.

Yo Yo stood over the hole, looking down. "Open it," she said.

Mack lifted up and sure enough, inside the box was the rotted, desiccated corpse of Mr.

McCallister, its raggedy-sleeved arms wrapped around a wide-eyed Ophelia.

She looked dead.

"We too late," said Grand.

"No," said Yo Yo. "She's just terrified. Help her out. Lift her out. Get her breathing."

"Carry her to the SUV," said Yo Yo. "I can only keep the security guy away from here for so long before I wear out."

"Shouldn't we fill in the hole?" asked Mack.

"All that matters," said Yo Yo, "is that when they look into the coffin, they don't find an extra body."

Mack carried Ophelia McCallister to the SUV She was light as a pillow. He didn't know old people were so... empty. She clung to his neck and wept into his chest, but her sobs felt like the trembling of a tiny bird's wings and her arms around his neck were like a baby's hands, her grip was so weak.

"I couldn't breathe," she whispered between sobs. "I couldn't breathe. Thank you. Thank God."

Saved one, thought Mack. I actually saved one. So maybe I was shown those dreams for a reason. Maybe I'm not just Oberon's tool in this world.

Nadine Williams opened the door. A police officer was standing there. She knew immediately that something terrible had happened to Word. She had warned him about becoming a minister in such a godforsaken part of the city. They'll kill you. They have no respect for religion. And God won't protect you, you can count on that! When you trust in God, you're on your own.

And now a policeman was here to tell them that Word was dead.

She sucked in her breath and refused to cry. "Can I help you, Officer?"

"Mrs. Williams," said the policeman. "I'm Ceese Tucker. Is your husband here?"

"My husband? He's asleep. Or he was, till you rang the doorbell."

"I need to see him," said Ceese.

"You can tell me," said Nadine.

"Tell you what?" He looked genuinely puzzled.

"I thought... aren't you here about Word?"

"What about Word?" asked Ceese.

"He was preaching his first sermon tonight in that little church in that awful neighborhood and I thought... he's all right?"

Nadine would have continued arguing, but she felt Byron's hand on her shoulder.

"What is it, Ceese?" asked Byron.

"Professor Williams," said Ceese. "You remember Bag Man?"

"I want nothing further to do with him."

"I know that, sir," said Ceese. "I'm just telling you that the kind of thing that happens around that man, it's happening tonight to a lot of folks, and we have reason to think it might have happened to you."

Nadine looked at Byron, puzzled. Did he know what this young man was talking about?

"Nothing like that," said Byron.

"Did you have a dream tonight, sir?" asked Ceese.

"A dream?" said Nadine. "Are you the dream police?"

But Byron answered him. "I did."

"A powerful dream. About your poetry, sir."

Nadine peered at her husband's face and could see that yes, he had dreamed such a dream.

"But Byron, I didn't know you wrote poetry."

"Sir," said Ceese, "I think there's reason to be afraid that your dream has come true. In an unpleasant way."

"I've dreamed it before and it never..."

"Tonight is different," said Ceese. "For several other people that we know of."

Ceese's cellphone rang. "Excuse me for a moment, sir," said Ceese.

Byron stood there for a moment in the doorway, watching Ceese as he started talking on the phone. Nadine looked back and forth between them.

"So you got there in time," said Ceese into the phone. "She's okay?" He looked relieved.

Byron suddenly swung away from the door and trotted toward the "office"the spare bedroom where the computer was always on.

When Ceese put away his cellphone he stepped into the house. "Do you know where your husband went?"

Ceese didn't ask if he could go back there, he just went, and Nadine didn't even protest. This was a very strange evening, and what she'd heard of the cellphone conversation led her to think that something very bad had almost happened to a girl named Sherita, and that would probably be Sherita Banks, that girl who had inherited her mother's hippopotamus thighs and buttocks at a tragically young age. Her parents had tried and tried to have a baby before they finally got Sherita. It just showed you that even the blessings in your life come with their own burdens. Like Word, with his sudden conversion to Christianity three years ago, and two failed attempts at divinity school, and now this dangerous, foolish attempt to become a preacher at a storefront church in a hellish neighborhood. All the hopes and dreams they both had for that beautiful boy, and this is what he was doing with his life.

But at least he hadn't become a policeman, like Ceese Tucker. How did his mother ever sleep nights? No matter how bad things were, somebody always had it worse.

Byron was sitting at the computer, his face buried in his hands.

Ceese walked around behind him and looked at the screen. Nadine followed him.

Byron had googled "Byron Williams poems" and the screen was showing the first seven of more than three thousand entries.

How could there be three thousand entries about Byron's poetry on the web, and she had never even known he wrote any?

Ceese leaned over and used the mouse to click on the first entry. A moment later, a website came up.

It was a review. "Now that the poems of Pepperdine Professor Byron Williams have been spread through the web like a virus, can anyone tell us whether this was the ultimate in vanity publication, or a cruel joke? Either way, we can all agree that Professor Williams deserves our deepest sympathy. Because it's doubtful any of his students can ever take him seriously again after reading these things."

"Oh my Lord," said Nadine. "Did you really write poetry and publish it on the web?"

"I didn't publish anything," whispered Byron Williams. "It was some hacker."

"No," said Ceese, and his voice was full of pity. "It was the deepest wish of your heart."

Chapter 16 | Magic Street | Chapter 18