The following excerpt from Aya de Leon’s The Boss is reprinted with permission from Kensington Books:
The industrial street was quiet and dark, except for the brightly lit corporate headquarters, which had been built from an old warehouse. The company was celebrating its one-year anniversary, and they had a quartet of searchlights rotating in front of the party, shining huge, blinding beams of light into the never-dark Manhattan sky.
Tyesha and Kim waited outside in the idling taxi, checking the time. Marisol had been inside the building too long. She was usually quick in opening a safe and should have been in and out once she picked the lock of the CEO’s office.
The driver glanced through the rearview mirror at the two girls in the back of the cab. Would he remember them? Two young women in catering uniforms, one black, one Asian. They both had their hair pulled back tight into long ponytails made of dark, fake hair. Kim’s was straight, Tyesha’s ended in a perfect ringlet.
In the distance, Tyesha heard shouting. Men’s voices—agitated and furious. There wasn’t supposed to be any noise, just Marisol slipping quietly out of the building and climbing into the cab with them.
She and Kim exchanged looks. Shouting changed everything.
“Are we leaving or waiting?” the cab driver asked, glancing at the running meter.
“You know what?” Tyesha said to the driver. “Our friend just texted that she’s not ready. Let me pay you now.”
Tyesha began to push Kim out of the cab, scooting behind her.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Kim hissed in her ear.
“Trust me,” Tyesha whispered back as she pulled several bills from her wallet and gave them to the driver.
He drove off, leaving them alone on the empty street.
“We didn’t need any witnesses,” Tyesha said.
“But how are we gonna get out of here?” Kim asked.
“You can hot-wire a car, right?” Tyesha asked.
“I used to do it as a teenager,” Kim said. “But only old cars. The new ones aren’t that easy.”
Suddenly, both their phones buzzed. The text from Marisol was empty. Meaning she was on her way out, and from the sound of things, Tyesha expected she was coming quickly.
“Can you hot-wire that one?” Tyesha asked. She pointed to a beat-up eighties-model van.
“Does that shit even run?” Kim asked as they hustled over to the vehicle.
Tyesha wrapped her arm in a newspaper and busted the window. The shouting got louder as Kim climbed in and pulled the wires.
Tyesha looked toward the building to see Marisol running across the long expanse of the parking lot. She was dressed in a catering uniform identical to theirs, but under her arm she held a large black purse, which she gripped with both hands.
Her long, wavy ponytail flew behind her as she ran followed by several men, including two in security uniforms.
“Hurry!” Tyesha said.
Tyesha saw a spark and then heard the blessed churn of the engine starting up.
“Get over here!” Kim said, climbing into the backseat.
“What the fuck?” Tyesha asked. “Put the damn thing in gear!”
“I can’t drive a stick,” Kim said.
Marisol was bearing down on them, headed for the pedestrian opening in the chain-link fence, with a half dozen men closing in behind her. Tyesha left the front passenger door open and clambered over the stick shift to the driver’s seat.
She put the car in gear and engaged the clutch. Marisol flew into the vehicle, and Tyesha took off, the passenger door swinging wildly. A handful of cash bricks tumbled onto the floor of the front seat.
In the rearview mirror, she could see a dark SUV pull up. The men piled into it.
“This is the last—” Marisol panted. “The last time I rob one of these motherfuckers at their offices. Too much damn security. I’m gonna start”—she wheezed—“start hitting their apartments.”
“Hold on!” Tyesha yelled, as she screeched around a corner.
As all three of them lurched to the left, Marisol and Kim reached for their seat belts.
The SUV tore around the corner in pursuit.
“Can we outrun them?” Marisol asked.
“In this piece of shit? I doubt it,” Kim said.
“I can probably outmaneuver them,” Tyesha said. “As long as they don’t call the cops.”
“I think they had some underage girls in there tonight,” Marisol said. “Definitely a lot of cocaine. I doubt they want cops around.”
They continued to barrel forward, wind blowing in through the broken window.
The SUV was gaining on them, as the light ahead of them turned red.
“Slow it down,” Marisol demanded.
Tyesha tried to slam on the brakes, but a brick of cash had wedged beneath the pedal.
“Tyesha!” Kim screamed.
Tyesha’s eyes widened as the cross-traffic began to move forward on the green, and their own car flew into the intersection.
Marisol threw her arms over her head. Kim gripped the back of the seat in front of her. Tyesha squeezed her eyes tight, her right leg jamming down on the pedal, in vain.
The car whizzed into the traffic, clipping a cab and barely missing several other vehicles.
Tyesha opened her eyes when she heard the crash behind them. The SUV hadn’t been so lucky. It had sideswiped a delivery truck and spun off onto the sidewalk.
Her heart was in her throat, but the three of them in the stolen van were okay.
They headed for another red light.
“What the fuck?” Marisol asked.
“It’s stuck!” Tyesha shouted. She glanced down to see the wedged brick of cash.
“Take the wheel while I get this damn money,” Tyesha said to Marisol.
Her mentor reached over to steer as Tyesha dislodged the cash.
“Brake now,” Marisol yelled.
Head still under the steering wheel, Tyesha jammed the heel of her hand down on the brake. The car stopped abruptly, crashing the rest of her body against the pedals. And because she hadn’t pressed the clutch, the van abruptly died.
“Kim!” Tyesha said. “You gotta hot-wire it again!”
Tyesha climbed up to the seat, and Kim climbed down below the steering column. As she began to work, the light turned green and motorists behind them honked and cursed.
Tyesha kept her eyes on the mirror. In the distance, she saw a security guard running toward them, hand on his gun.
“One of the guards is coming, but he’s on foot!” she said.
Kim restarted the car and scrambled up into the front seat with Marisol. Tyesha grabbed the wheel and made a sudden left turn, barely missing a limo.
As they swerved, Kim clung to Marisol to keep from being thrown against the windshield.
“We gotta ditch this van,” Marisol said.
Up ahead, Tyesha saw an alley and pulled in.
“Quick,” Marisol said to the two of them. “I’ll hail a cab. Wipe down the van.”
Tyesha grabbed a rag from the floor of the van and tore it in two. She gave half to Kim, and they proceeded to wipe off all the door handles, the wheel, the seat belts, the wires, and any places they might have grabbed while the van swerved. Fortunately, the vinyl surfaces of the seats were textured and wouldn’t hold prints well.
Both their phones lit up with texts.
Tyesha saw it was from Marisol: “Kim, we gotta go.”
“I can’t fuck around,” Kim said. “NYPD definitely has my prints on file.”
Thirty seconds and some thorough scrubbing later, Tyesha and Kim sauntered out of the alley.
It was a perfectly normal Manhattan evening. A cluster of teens was crossing the street. An older couple holding hands strolled behind them.
Tyesha and Kim joined Marisol in the back of a cab. Just three women headed home from some restaurant service job. They looked a bit like a diversity ad for a hiring brochure: one African-American and brown-skinned, one Latina, one Asian. All three with curvy figures, long hair, and full makeup.
The driver paid them no attention. He talked on his cell phone in what sounded like Arabic, although he had a large American flag on display.
“Lower East Side, please,” Marisol said, and gave him an address. The driver pulled away from the curb, still talking into his headset.
Keeping her hands low, Tyesha handed the brick of cash to Marisol.
“This fucking money nearly killed us,” Tyesha murmured.
“Or helped us escape,” Marisol said quietly. “Depends how you look at it.”
“Good thing I didn’t piss myself and leave a puddle of DNA in that damn van,” Kim said.
“Let’s start checking different city news outlets,” Marisol said. “I wanna make sure those guys in the SUV are okay.”
Tyesha pulled out her phone.
“Why do you even care?” Kim asked.
“We only steal from these corrupt assholes,” Marisol said. “We’re just wealth redistributors, not executioners.”
Two years later
For days after her sister interrupted the party, Tyesha would be unable to recall how happy she had been about her big promotion. They were eating her favorite cake—red velvet—and celebrating Tyesha’s rise to executive director of the Maria de la Vega Community Health Clinic.
As a child she’d certainly spent lots of time in health clinics—as a client. In fact, she was twelve years old before she realized that some people had a particular doctor that they saw in an office. Someone who knew their name and had their health history in a little chart that they could pull out and read. But the anonymity of clinics had a plus side. At seventeen, the bored nurse practitioner couldn’t say, Hmmm, Tyesha, this is your fifth case of chlamydia. Instead, they fell for her wide-eyed, surprised look and gave her the antibiotic prescription with a handful of condoms.
But now she was the director of a women’s health a clinic, where they kept files for everyone, even if they just came once, and the clinic workers could talk to you about how hard it was to get a guy to put on a condom sometimes. They even taught girls how to put it on with their mouths so the guy didn’t realize what they were doing. Executive Director. From the vantage point of the girl she’d been, it might as well be Queen of England. The directors of those health centers had been people she only saw in smiling photographs on the wall.
Now she was in charge of this storefront clinic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Now it would be her photo on the wall. Her chocolate-brown face, large, wide-set eyes, broad nose, and full lips smiling down from the wall of the bustling lobby. Even this cramped, windowless little conference room, with gum under the seats and the occasional bit of graffiti carved into the fake wood of the round table—she was in charge of this, too.
She sat around the table with Marisol Rivera, her mentor, and the outgoing executive director, as well as Eva Feldman, the clinical director. Rounding out the crew were her best friends Kim and Jody—girlfriends—who were also involved in the clinic. More specifically, they were all part of the team that had fund-raised creatively to keep the clinic open.
Marisol had raised a champagne glass: “To Tyesha!” And they all toasted and drank. Then Marisol reached down under the table, her dark hair falling across her brown face. She lifted a large box onto the conference table and sat back, her plum lips in a grin of anticipation.
Tyesha had almost cried when she opened the box and found the briefcase. She almost wept at the soft but sturdy leather—a brown so dark, it was nearly black. Marisol hadn’t bought this out of the back of any trunk on West 27th. The large, rectangular briefcase was embossed with the logo of an expensive uptown Spanish leather designer.
Tyesha was speechless.
“I got one for Marisol when she started as executive director,” Eva said. Eva was somewhere in her sixties, thickly built and gray-haired.
“You mean you’ve had your briefcase for ten years?” Tyesha asked. Marisol’s case didn’t look brand-new, but it didn’t look a decade old.
“They’re guaranteed for life,” Marisol said.
And just as Tyesha went to lift the briefcase out of the box, the door to the conference room had opened. Her older sister had swept in. Jenisse. Sixteen years older, but hot as a cougar in her tan leather coat, skintight cream-colored dress, and stiletto boots.
“Sorry to interrupt. This a birthday party or something?” Jenisse asked, the contempt barely disguised beneath a curling smile. “Apparently I gotta bust into Tyesha’s job cause she can’t call nobody. You ain’t heard I was in New York? How you gonna let forty-eight hours go by and not come see about your own sister?”
Tyesha got over her shock and stood up. “No, I didn’t know,” she offered in a twin sarcastic tone, but without the fake smile. “Seeing you didn’t bother to call. And I know you have my number or could get it. Besides, as I recall, your last words to me were: ‘Bitch, I don’t need your help, so get outta my house.’”
Her sister tilted her head to the side, scrutinizing Tyesha. “New York ain’t been feeding you right,” she said. “You need to let me make you a few dinners. Get the rest of your ass back. Plus your hair looks raggedy.” Jenisse tossed her head. She was lighter skinned, and the permed and pressed auburn hair that fell down her back was all her own.
Tyesha’s hand reached involuntarily for the roots of her own perm, which, admittedly, had grown out a bit.
“Deza’s here,” her sister said. “She can do your hair right.”
Tyesha snapped to attention at the name of her niece. “You brought Deza?”
“And Amaru.” Her sister’s youngest daughter. “Zeus paid for all of us to come.”
“How long are you staying?” Tyesha asked.
“Long as his business takes, I guess,” Jenisse said, inspecting her nails.
Marisol stood up. “So you’re Jenisse,” she said. “Tyesha always said you were beautiful, but I still wasn’t prepared. And I like the way you pay attention to detail. Beauty is sometimes about the little things, right? I’ve been wanting to do a top ten list of things girls get wrong in the beauty department. Maybe you could give me some tips while I give you a tour of the place?”
Jenisse was startled, but she let Marisol take her arm and guide her out the door.
After the door closed, Jody asked, “Are you fucking kidding me?” Her sandy brows furrowed under spiky short blond hair. “Your sister comes into your party talking shit?”
“Why today?” Tyesha asked, slumping down into the chair. “Why she gotta show up and burn down my life again today?”
“So, that’s your fucked-up big sister?” Kim asked. She cut her heavily lined eyes in the direction Jenisse had gone.
“I gotta open up the door and air out the passive-aggressiveness,” Eva said, wearing the frown of concentration that went with her therapist face. “Was that really the last thing she said to you? ‘Bitch, get out of my house?’”
“I was home for the holidays a few years ago,” Tyesha said. “I had confronted her about going off with Zeus for days at a time and leaving my nieces to fend for themselves. Deza was maybe fifteen at the time. Amaru was ten.”
“Who the fuck is Zeus?” Jody asked.
“Jenisse’s man,” Tyesha said. She noticed she’d been unconsciously running her hand back and forth along the soft leather of the briefcase. “They been together twenty-five years.”
“So he’s the girls’ father?” Eva asked.
“I don’t know for sure,” Tyesha said. “They’re not married, but he supports all of them. He’s a big drug dealer in Chicago. My two nephews, Jenisse’s oldest, both ended up in jail trying to go into the family business.”
“Damn,” Kim said. “And this family drama show has set up shop in New York?”
“Indefinitely,” Tyesha said, shaking her head.
Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program in the African American Studies Department at UC Berkeley. Kensington Books published her debut feminist heist novel, Uptown Thief, in 2016, which won a first place Independent Publisher Award. The Justice Hustlers series continues with The Boss in 2017 and The Accidental Mistress in 2018. Her work has also appeared in Ebony, Guernica, Writers Digest, Bitch Magazine, Essence, Huffington Post and on Def Poetry. She blogs and tweets about culture, gender, and race, and is also at work on a children’s picture book about Bree Newsome and just finished a YA black girl spy novel called Going Dark.