Even though they kept their car windows rolled up, the sound of the crowd of young people shouting and throwing blows at someone pinned down on the sidewalk was loud enough to make Jo press down hard on the gas to get out of the line of fire.

Today’s excerpt is a really rough draft that will need some tweaking, but I thought since you met Chris yesterday, you’d like to get a glimpse of Franco, too.

Flight was not so easy, however, since the street was filled with cruising cars, some passengers encouraging the violence and some simply gawking. Then a shout from down the street scattered the mob. Jo almost ran into several people who dove across her path to get to their parked cars.

They were about two blocks away from the melee when Avril finally leaned forward and pointed. “There. That’s him. That’s him for sure.”

Looking nervously in her rearview window, Jo pulled over to the curb where a slim youth in low-hanging jeans and a muscle t-shirt was leaning against a light pole. As the car stopped, he loped up to them. When Avril rolled down the window, he leaned down to look into the car, saw Avril, and froze.

Covering his surprise with bravado, he said, “You away from your home turf, girl. You branching out or something?”

“Get in, Franco.” Avril got out of the car and tilted the passenger seat forward as an invitation. He took one look around—hoping for rescue or fearful of being seen, who knew which?—before climbing in the back seat.

Jo pulled away from the curb, relieved they weren’t planning on questioning the boy in the open on such a busy street.

“Who she?” Franco asked Avril with a head nod toward Jo.

“I’m the person trying to find a safe place for Lily,” Jo answered.

She put the left blinker on and turned down a side street, away from the action along the main drag. The relative silence as they drove past residential buildings was comforting, though she knew it didn’t mean guaranteed safety by any means.

“She safe.” Franco leaned back, but when Jo looked at him in the rearview mirror, he looked anything but relaxed. “We got it covered.”

“Safe? With Riley King?” Avril blew out a raspberry. “You have got to be joking, boy. You put that baby in a viper’s nest and call it good? Where’s your head at, huh?”

Avril was bluffing. They had no proof Lily was actually staying with Riley King, just that he was involved somehow.

It worked. Franco didn’t even look surprised when he answered, “Least she still got the baby. If Lil had stayed in the hospital, that baby’d be gone, and Lily, too, probably, back to that bastard of an old man of hers.”

So her father had been abusive. That confirmed one of Jo’s theories. But that wasn’t the topic she wanted to pursue tonight.

“I’m working on getting her into Maddy’s Place.” Jo made a mental apology to Jack for stretching the truth again. “A shelter for young mothers.”

“A place they don’t make you sell dope to pay for,” Avril added with emphasis, turning in her seat to stare the boy down.

“I know you care about Lily,” Jo said quickly before the two of them could go at one another. “You’ve got to know it’s not healthy for her or the baby to stay with Riley King for long. All I want to do is talk to her, present Maddy’s Place as an option. Offer my help.”

I need to compare this scene to one of Chris in Painted Black, who also almost turned prostitute, to make sure they aren’t too similar.

Jo stopped at a stop sign and waited, her eyes meeting his in the mirror again. She could see his indecision, his distrust, but also the worry that furrowed the ridge between his eyebrows, the haunted eyes of a boy forced too soon into becoming a man.

“I’ll tell her,” he said finally. “I won’t promise anything, but I’ll tell her what you said and let her decide. If—” He frowned and leaned forward again. “If you take me back to my corner right now, before King finds out I skipped out on the job.”

Jo took a deep breath and glanced over at Avril, who was watching her with no expression. An indication that this was Jo’s call, not hers. Letting her breath out in an exaggerated sigh, Jo turned the steering wheel to the right and made a wide u-turn in the middle of the intersection before heading straight back into the mouth of Englewood hell.

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