1 Crush Casey had been up for hours; sometimes sleep didn’t come easy, and this was one of those times. Today would have been Antonio’s twenty-eighth birthday, and that thought had kept him tossing and turning all night. It was hard to imagine his boy being twenty-eight. In Casey’s mind, Antonio would always be frozen in time as the sixteen-year-old who had visited him that last time in prison. On top of that, it was a month since Casey had visited his son’s grave—’bout thirty days too long, far as he was concerned—and this morning, he was gonna make it right.He glanced over at Carla, sleeping soundly next to him, a peaceful look on her face. She was a beautiful woman who understood him better than most—hell, maybe better than himself sometimes. Casey tried to be stealthy as he slipped out of bed like he was making an escape, hoping not to wake her, but he wasn’t smooth enough to make it work.“Morning, baby,” Carla said in a sleepy, honeyed voice.He leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. “It’s early, baby. Go back to sleep.”It was too late, though; she was already up, and asked where he was going. Usually Casey admired how quick Carla’s mind worked in the morning, but today it was a definite drag. He thought of making up a story, but even as he hesitated, he knew he’d have to come clean.Casey dropped a shoulder at the door. “I’ma go see Antonio, it’s been a minute.”He watched her examine his face, searching for a clue as to what his temperature might be, but it was pointless. She nodded and quickly jumped out of bed. “Okay, it won’t take but a hot second for me to get ready. You want a quick breakfast?”Casey had hoped to do this visit solo, but didn’t care enough to open up a can of worms over it. “Just coffee, baby. I wanna bounce in twenty.”Exactly nineteen minutes later, they hit the road in Casey’s black Escalade. The streets were quiet that early on a Sunday morning. New York, the city that never sleeps, was at least taking a break on God’s day before revving up to do it all over again.It was about an hour’s drive to the graveyard, and Casey was silent for most of it. Carla was quiet, too, letting him contemplate. He appreciated that—her giving him space to do what he had to do was a big part of their relationship, and she knew it well.As they crossed the bridge to Long Island, Casey reflected on his life and did a mental inventory of all the players in it, past and present. He was glad to reconnect with Champa Muñoz; he knew that, above everyone else, the man had his back and would always be straight up. They had been friends ever since they met at juvie, when they were twelve years old. Shinzo Becker was also a down brotha; he’d proved his loyalty on the battlefield when they forced the final showdown with his backstabbing ex-partner Gulliver Rono.He thought of Rono, his former right-hand man, who’d betrayed him and got him sent to Attica for twenty years. In the end, that bastard had gotten his in spades, but nothing could pay back the twenty years behind bars and the loss of Casey’s son. He wondered what had turned Gulliver out and made him a snitch and a sucka—he could understand if Rono had wanted to kill him so that he could take over the Kings, but to cut a deal with the feds—that was a real bitch move. Under his breath, Casey said, “Fuck ’em, who cares.” Carla glanced at him and he shook his head so she left it alone. Casey changed lanes and went back into his head again.Then there was the woman in his life. Casey couldn’t help smiling as he stole a glance at Carla: even in just tight jeans and a T-shirt, she looked amazing. She was one bad bitch—a wildcat in the sack, whose body was a magnet he simply couldn’t resist. Along with her brainpower, she was also a mind reader who knew how to interpret his vibe and act accordingly. That didn’t mean she wasn’t also a bit of work, however. But the fact remained that Carla was the first woman since Danielle, Antonio’s mother, whom he felt he really connected with. It was a different relationship, though—it was more complete, more multidimensional … a result of his age and time. He recalled Mack D, his guru in the joint, speaking on relationships once: “Look here, nigga, when a woman meets a man, it’s always the right time, and only when it’s the right time will a man meet the right woman, you dig?”Lately, however, there’d been a bit of a hiccup in paradise. Casey knew Carla wanted a baby—the hints she’d been dropping were becoming less subtle with each passing day—and that conversation was gonna make them or break them. It wasn’t that he didn’t love her, or that he had a problem with kids—quite the opposite. He just knew his lifestyle—leader of the most powerful gang in NYC—wasn’t conducive to babies and all that domestic shit, because everyone knew a gangsta’s biggest weakness was his seed.The truth was, when Antonio was murdered, he’d ’bout lost his mind over it, and going through that shit again was not an option. He remembered how he’d transformed that pain into anger in the joint, and how he went to sleep having dreams of literally tearing Rono apart, limb by muthafuckin’ limb. He was on the short road to insanity till Mack D had gotten him straight.In Attica, you either had enemies or allies, but Mack D was different. He was the father figure Casey’d never had, a man with an impressive criminal pedigree and a profound intellect that made him untouchable. He was also a master communicator who always had everyone’s attention. Mack had transcended the yard and gang bullshit and figured out more than most. He was a true samurai warrior, Buddhist monk, and Goldie from The Mack all rolled into one. He’d seen Casey through the ups and downs of prison life, got him to get his head on straight and start using his brains instead of his fists to not only survive in Attica, but make plans for what was gonna go down after he got out.Then there was Lomax, his fat-assed, wise-crackin’ parole officer, whose little hints had led Casey to breaking the back of his former gang, the Vicetown Kings, and killing his betrayer, Gulliver Rono, by chocking the life out of his betrayin’ ass. Casey couldn’t figure out Lomax: On one hand, he’d serendipitously helped him with his Rono beef without batting an eye. Course, that might have been due to the fact that Casey had a hand in destroying two other gangs on that blood-soaked night in Parkenbush. On the other, he’d also let Casey know—in his own delicate way—that he had the man’s Saint Jude’s medal that could get him indicted for the murder and mayhem of the VK and Rono drama. But over the last three months, Lomax hadn’t jerked his chain once.That bit with his medal irked Casey—typical po-po bullshit. The nigga could have given him back his shit, but instead, he was using it as not-so-subtle blackmail. The Saint Jude’s medal was a gift from Antonio’s mother, a link to his past that now was choking him. He knew Lomax had an agenda, and Casey was a part of it whether he liked it or not. At the moment, it looked like their mutual interests jibed, but the second they didn’t, that was when he knew the shit would get critical, and hey, there was no way Casey was ever going back to the joint. He was out for good, be it alive or dead!He thought about that final showdown with Rono, and how he was able to unleash the fury inside him and choke the