LOVE TRUMPS GAME by d.y. phillips

Mystery & Thrillers

By Debra Phillips

Publisher : Strebor Books

LOVE TRUMPS GAME by d.y. phillips

ABOUT Debra Phillips

Debra Phillips
The author of four books, three under the name of Debra Phillips, and one under the name of my alter ego, D.Y. Phillips. I live in the high desert of Victor Valley, and I'm currently working on book five.



A spicy grandmother has to go on the run with her two street-wise grandkids to keep them from falling into the hands of their homicidal, drug-dealing father who will stop at nothing to get them back.
(excerpt of Love Trumps Game by d.y. phillips)



Love Trumps Game

By d.y. phillips



         Have you ever been in the same room with a monster?

Did you see how he did it?  How he used fear as his weapon.

            Could you smell or see death coming in his eyes?

            What Hattie Sims saw when she came out from the restroom of her home, was a tall, muscular man standing in her living room.  Her breath caught in her throat.  She could have kicked herself for not remembering to lock that metal security door. After all, wasn’t that what it was for? to keep devils and monsters out.

            “Why are you in my house?”

Topps Jackson was no stranger, still, she didn’t like or trust him from the first time she’d laid eyes on him.  Something about his eyes, dark and threatening. He had nice lips that rarely smiled.

            “Chill out Mama Hattie. I come in peace.” A toothpick was restless between his lips. Sneaky-looking eyes panned around her room as if he were casing the place.

            “Your type ain’t welcome here.” Hattie refused to let her nervousness show. Men like Topps Jackson preyed on such. “And I’m not yo’ mama.”

            He was dressed all in black. Large, muscular arms seemed more like thick, brown tree trunks protruding from the expensive jersey he wore. “Good ‘thang you not or you’d be dead by now.”

            It was probably ridiculous for her to try to manually remove him. She was a small woman with delicate features. Still, Hattie straightened her back and stood her grounds with the father of her grandchildren.  His bodacious visit was what she got for not locking her metal security door thinking that the delivery boy would be there soon with her grocery order. “What is it you want? Say what you want and get out. You got no business being in my house.”

            “Now see, that ain’t no way to be treating family.”  Unfazed by her show of unwelcome Topps Jackson ambled over to table near her picture window and picked up a wooden frame of her daughter, Myra. “Pretty,” he grunted.  He placed the frame back and ran a finger along the top of the table.  “A little dusty in here. You might wanna take care of that when I leave.”

            “Look, if you’re looking for Neema, she ain’t here.”

            “Not looking for Neema. Looking for you, the mama that keeps putting nonsense in Neema’s head. You know, that shit about taking my kids and moving away.” Topps sniffed, looked around her old, cozy living room. It was clean, but old looking. He frowned like it was a shame to live average with no frills.

            Hattie couldn’t see what Neema saw in him.  True, he was tall, handsome, cunning, and from what she’d heard, drug-dealing rich.  He had materialistic wealth, yet, still he represented everything a mother warned her daughter about.  Stay away from men that degrade women. Men that hurt women.  Stay away from men on the opposite side of the law. Stay away. “Like I said, you got no business being here.”

            “I disagree. I feel like this, if my kids spend a lot of time over here, I need to know what’s up. How you hanging. You know what I’m saying, don’t you?” All six feet of man turned and slowly walked down her hallway like some invited guest padding along her carpet in his  expensive-looking black sneakers.  “How many bedrooms you got here, ole’ lady?”

            “You listen here young man…” Hattie was right behind him, clutching the hem of her floral house dress. “You need to leave.”

            “You gotta a man up in this ‘mutha?” Topps inquired as he opened doors and surveyed one room after another. “What? No nigger laying that pipe down? That explains a lot.”

            “That’s not your business,” Hattie snapped. The nerve of his fool talking this way to me.

            “That’s how I feel when you stay up in my business with Neema. See,” he grunted, looking down at her, “if you had a man tapping that ass, you wouldn’t have that problem.”

            “Neema’s my daughter. I gave birth to Neema, not you.”

            Topps had to turn to get in her face. “I don’t care if you shot Neema out your wrinkled, grey-covered ass twice. She’s my boo-bitch now. Mine, so get over it.”

            “I’m calling the police.”  And she would have too, but his bulk in the narrow hallway was blocking. She could smell the toothpaste he’d used earlier, the cologne. That’s how close he stood.  The monster grinned. Eyes red. Nostrils flared. He snatched up her hand like she was some bratty-child trying to slip away.

            “Ouch, you’re hurting me!”

            “This the deal here. You need to stop putting crazy ideas in Neema’s head. She ain’t no child no more. She ain’t going no ‘muthafucking place. You understand what I’m saying?” 

            “Let me go!”

            His dark-eyed stare was so intense it could make a baby cry. Hattie felt like crying herself. The scowl on his face promised worst. It was the second time she’d seen his face up close and personal. She hoped it would be the last.

            “I’m warning you ole’ lady,  if I hear my bitch-boo say one more time about she wanna take my kids and move away from me, I’ll have to come back for a longer visit. We’ll be doing some real talking the next time. Know what I’m saying ole’ lady?”

            When she didn’t answer, he squeezed her hand harder causing a hot pain to zip through her hand and up her elbow. Pain nearly brought Hattie to her knees.  “You hear me or not?” he prompt again.

            “I…I hear you.” The nuance of not being able to do anything about his presence grated on her nerves. At five foot-three, one hundred and eighty, she was no match.

            “That’s better,” Topps said, smirk-smiling.  The shine of soft hate was in his eyes. He patted the top of her head much the same he would do for a pet dog. “See, Mama bitch. I’m not so bad, am I?” It could almost be a term of endearment. All women were bitches to Topps Jackson - - female dogs that had to be kept on a mental leash-- controlled. Sometimes even old, Mama-bitches had to be dealt with. “You alright,” he released her hand.

            “I want you out of my house.”  Hattie massaged her hand while Topps removed a moist Clean’n Wipe cloth and wiped germs from his hands. 

            “Not so fast, ole’ lady.”  Topps made a show of checking out the ceiling, knocking on a couple of walls.  “Not a bad house, but if my kids gone be coming and going up in this ‘muther you need to be living better. Check this out, ole’ lady. If you ever want to sale this dump I’ll give you a pretty price. Enough to get you a new house that smells better.”  Frowning, he sniffed a few times. “Smells like loneliness and moth balls in here. What you think?”

            Hattie didn’t answer.

            “Yeah. Just what I thought. You need some time to think that shit over, huh?”

            Her front door bell rang.  It had to be the delivery boy with her grocery order.

  Topps acted like he owned the place the way he headed for the metal security door and greeted the delivery boy with, “What’s up my man? It’s all good. How much I owe you? You can sit those bags down by the door.”

            He processed the bill information, took a wad of cash from the pocket of his black sweat pants and peeled off two crisp hundred dollar bills.  “Keep the change, bro.”

            Once the pimped-faced delivery clerk was gone, Topps turned back to give Hattie one of his famous sneers.  “One last thing, ole’ woman. You mention this little visit to Neema and I’ll have come back to see you.  Maybe I can stay longer next time. Better yet, I might have to take my frustration out on Neema’s sweet little ass for bringing yo’ name up.”

             Hattie waited after her security door banged shut, rushed over to it and locked it. Frowning, she watched the monster walk to his big black vehicle, get in and drive off.











         “I said, c’mon now. I don’t have all day, Brandon. You get yourself up those steps now! You too, Raynita.”         

            Neema Jean wiped beads of sweat from her honey-brown forehead as she stomped up the dusty, concrete steps to her mother’s house with her two kids in tow. It had to be over ninety-nine degrees in the shade, add a summer breeze and it felt like she was inside somebody’s new convection oven. For a second or more she stood along the porch with the intention of calming herself, then thought, the hell with it.  She used the ball of her fist to bang hard on the metal security screen door.

            “Who is it?”

             Neema took the liberty of trying the knob but found the door locked. In no time her mother was at the door unlocking it, then ambled back to her seat. Neema marched inside after her children. The heavy door banged shut behind her.

            “Lock my door,” Hattie ordered.

            Neema made a face. “Why? You ain’t been locking it.”

            “Neema, I said lock my door behind you.”

            “Whatever.”  Neema stood and blew out a weary breath.  “Mama, can you watch my kids for few hours?”  The Compton house was almost as suffocating as the August heat outside, only adding to her irritation.  She fanned her face and looked around as if expecting her sister Myra to be present. Myra was always around brown-nosing.  “Mama! I said I need someone to watch my kids. I can’t find a job if I don’t have no babysitter.” Remembering to pout, Neema rolled her big brown eyes and folded her arms at her ample chest.

            Hattie rocked a few times in her new Lazyboy chair. A recent gift for her forty-ninth  birthday, it was the nicest piece of furniture that graced her spacious living room. She was still a little upset about that fool, Topps, popping up at her house, but didn’t dare bring it up. Topps could make a believer out of Satan.  If she mentioned his threatening visit, no doubt he would take it out on Neema. Even worst, take it out on the kids.

            “Hi, Nanny,” Raynita waved her little hand.

            “Hey baby. How y’all doing?”  Hattie barely blinked in Neema’s direction as she reached over to click on her tabletop fan. Cool air mixed with heat ruffled the hem of her thin, house dress.  “Come give Nanny a hug.”

The heat was enough to fight the devil about, but Hattie remained unfazed. Surely she hadn’t been foolish enough to think a Saturday would slip by without Neema contacting her in need of something. 

“Mama!” Neema stomped her foot.  “I know you hear me talkin’ to you.”

“Not really,” Hattie said calmly, picking up a magazine to fan her face. “Child, I feel too blessed to be stressed today.”  Thank God she had a high tolerance for drama. Especially when it came to her youngest child, Neema Jean. Drama should have been Neema’s middle name. Hattie kept her eyes trained on her television set where Soul Train was on. The volume was turned down to a comfortable level. The sight of smiling faces and young bodies gyrating to music made her wish for younger days when no one barged into her home with demands. “Humph.”  Neema Jean knew better than to disturb her during one of her favorite programs.

            “Mama, I said I need you to watch my kids!”

            “Neema, I heard you the first time. You need to calm down and stop all that shouting in my house. Bout to give me a headache. ”

            Neema Jean frowned. “Well?” she prompted with clear anguish in her voice. She assumed her ready-to-do-battle pose: eyes hard and locked, a hand to one hip. “Why you acting like you don’t hear me then? You watching ‘em or not?”

            “Not with that attitude I’m not.”  Hattie barely looked up, almost as if a herd of wild horses through her living room couldn’t deter her attention. A smile tugged at her thin lips as she recalled a time when she could move her body like Soul Train dancers. Heck, she thought, I still got a few good moves at forty-nine.  The thought made her grin. “I thought I made myself clear when you called and asked me an hour ago?  Child, ain’t nothing changed.”

            “I told you I have a job interview, Mama. You keep saying how I need to be independent and how I need my own job, but what I’m ‘spose to do with these kids?”  Neema made a gesture with her hand before staring in the direction of her children.  Six-year-old Raynita, and seven-year-old Brandon stood quiet next to the faded blue sofa. Their distressed faces appeared too afraid to move. “Y’all put them backpacks down.”

            “What for, Neema? They’ll be leaving right back out with you.”  Hattie shot her full attention to her daughter. Neema Jean was her youngest of two; the spoiled one; the one that often behaved like the world and everyone in it owed her something. Frankly, after twenty-three years of that girl’s selfish and demanding behavior, Hattie was sick of it. “Nee, you should have thought about all that when you was laying up making them babies.”

“Does that mean you watching my kids or not?”

“You figure it out.”  Hattie sniffed. Darn if that girl wasn’t the spitting image of her father, Bomann. So much in fact that sometimes it hurt to look at her.  Seeing Neema so often made it hard to forget that six years ago, Bo had walked out on their marriage claiming that he needed time to find himself. Just up and walked away from twenty-nine years of marriage and two kids like it all had meant nothing. Well, not small kids, but grown girls that still needed parental guidance. Especially their youngest, Neema. The last Hattie had heard, Bo was living somewhere in Louisiana with a thirty-year old female, drinking heavy, doing drugs, and still looking for himself.

            “Tried to tell you that you weren’t ready for no kids at sixteen, but you wouldn’t listen. Heck, you still need some raising yourself.”

            “Well, it’s too late to be saying stuff like that, Mama. They here now, so we have to deal with it. You gone watch ‘em?”

            “We?” Hattie huffed.

            “I said, are you watching ‘em, mama?”

            “Lord, why me?” Hattie gazed upward and sighed. To have the luxury of sitting in her own house with total peace and quiet, alone. That’s all she really wanted.  “Nee, how many times I have to tell you that I’m not your ready-made-instant babysitter?  Don’t get me wrong here. I love them babies just as much as you do, but heck, they spend more time here with me than they do with you. Yeah, I took an early retirement from my job but that don’t mean I need you to give me a second job. I’m tired.”

            “Mama, I’m tired too.” Neema rolled her eyes and admired her recently-done nails.   “Tired of being broke. I don’t have nobody else. Daycare cost money that I don’t have cause I don’t have no job. You they grandmother. Why can’t you watch ‘em while I go see about a job? You ain’t doing nothing.”

            Hattie counted from ten before responding. Three, two, one.  “That’s beside the point. And you watch yo’ mouth talking to me like that. You need to get on outta’ here with that craziness.”

 “What? You want me to beg?” 

Neema went around to stand in front of the television.  Her satin dress and black Jimmy Choo stilettos was one big red blur to Hattie’s eyes and reeked of everything but a job interview.  She could be such a pretty girl, but ugly ways blocked it. Looked more like Beyonce with a bad weave and a bad attitude.

            “I said no.”  Her blood pressure was rising. Hattie could always tell when the twitching of a headache began at her temples. She shook her head. “Lord, this child is going to be the death of me.”  You would think that after raising two girls, dealing with a job she had hated for twenty-five years, not to mention a marriage that had turned love-less, she had paid her dues. But no. People still expected things; someone to sponge off, someone to clean up behind them; someone to cook for them, and someone, always, someone to watch their kids at the drop of a hat. Hell, no. She wasn’t having it.

 Her girlfriend had been right about being too available for her grown offspring.  If Jackie had her way, they’d both be cruising the high seas and sipping on apple martinis and making goo-goo eyes at younger men. Placing her glass down Hattie leaned to the side trying to look around her daughter’s shapely frame. “Whoever heard of job hunting on a Saturday? Move out the way, Neema! Must think I just fell off the turnip truck.”

            “Dang, Mama.”  Neema Jean sauntered over and flung herself down on the sofa. “You  always do this to me.”

“And what would that be?”

“Give me a hard time,” Neema whined, then pouted like an eight-year-old.  “You never do it to Myra when it comes to watching her kids. Never.”

            “Neema Jean, please,” Hattie sighed, feeling exhausted. She knew it was just a matter of time that Neema would start her whining. Whining, plotting, begging, lying, stealing, and scheming. These were her daughter’s best qualities.  Sometimes it was hard to believe that she had raised both girls in the church.

“Don’t go blaming your sister Myra because she takes care of business.” Myra was five years older, married to a doctor, and ran her own pet grooming business. Hattie took care not to verbalize it, but Neema was more like her father, spoiled, lazy and always looking for the easy way to get ahead.  “And speaking of Myra, you need to ask her to watch the kids for you. Don’t you know how to do it? You baby-sit for her, she baby-sit for you. I’m sorry, but I’m not up to it this weekend. I need some rest too.”

            “Mama, Pleeeaassse.” Neema whined, short of crying.

            “Neema, I said no already. Now gone and stop harassing me.”

             Hattie wasn’t falling for it this time. No sirree.  The last time Neema had claimed that  she was going to look for a job on a Monday, she didn’t return for six days. Six whole days! Hattie hardly slept for worrying about the girl’s whereabouts. Not only that, but Neema Jean’s careless disregard had caused her to miss an important doctor’s appointment.  Hattie would never understand how a woman who insisted that she’s a good mother could abandon her children for days at a time without so much as a phone call to check up on them. ‘Interview my foot’.

            “Bet you wouldn’t treat Myra like this.”

            “Myra got sense enough to hire a babysitter instead of lying to me about where she going.”  If anything, this so-called job interview was nothing more than a ploy for Neema to go lay up somewhere with Topps Jackson, the kids’ father. A known drug dealer, Topps Jackson was nothing but trouble with legs, and in Hattie’s opinion, so wrong for Neema. Her daughter could do so much better, but telling Neema this over and over again had become futile.  “Take ‘em to their father. Let him watch ‘em.”

            “He can’t. He’s off on business.”

            “I bet he is.” The business of harassing good Christian folks.  She resisted bringing up the visit Topps had paid her earlier.

            Neema sighed. “Mama, don’t start that mess about Topps. He’s a good father and you know it.”

Hattie bit her tongue lightly. “Try asking your sister to watch the kids.”

“You know it’s over an hour drive to Myra’s house.”

            “And a nice day for a long drive. Nee, stop making excuses.”

            “Fine, Mama! I guess I can’t go to the damn interview then!”  Like a spoiled child Neema  huffed and hopped up. She blew out a hard breath before stomping off to the direction of the small bathroom and slammed the door.

            “Well, you wanted to be a mother, so be one.” Hattie mumbled, then shouted in the direction of the closed restroom door, “And don’t be slamming no doors in my house or using that kind of language with me. You not that damn grown!”

            Smiling, Hattie focused back on her program. Happy people with smiling faces were dancing to Blow The Whistle by Too Short.  “I’m the one that shoulda’ never had kids,” she mumbled as she took up her chilled lemonade for a sip and glanced over at her two grandchildren who hadn’t said another peep the whole time. The two stood like stiff, brown trees next to her love seat. 

As much as she hated to admit it, Brandon carried that same handsome hardness of his father. A head full of curly, black hair; piercing dark eyes, the same strong jaw line. Raynita, on the other hand, was the splitting image of Neema Jean with her honey-hued complexion, thin lips, and large brown eyes. A smile could bring the deepest dimples to her plump cheeks. Poor things. 

“Nita, why you over there looking so sad?”  It was cute the way Neema kept the child’s hair in neat cornrows with colorful beads dangling from the ends. Their shoes and outfits looked expensive, making them well-dressed kids for a mother that didn’t have a job to speak of.  “You two look hot and hungry. How ‘bout some cold milk and some of Nanny’s homemade cookies?”

            Raynita’s eyes lit up. “Nanny, you have chocolate chip? It’s my favorite.”

            “I don’t want no damn chocolate chip,” Brandon said with a scrunched-up face. “Peanut butter cookies taste better.”

            “Boy, you watch your mouth before you get a bar of soap in it. You start that cussing in my house and the next thing you’ll be getting is a leather strap on your behind!”

            “Hell. I didn’t want no stupid cookies anyway,” Brandon stuck his small chest out. “I hate chocolate chips.”

            “Hey! I said watch your mouth.”  Good grief.  Hattie got up and headed to her refrigerator for some cold milk. Raynita and Brandon followed behind her like puppies. She fetched her cookie jar down from the shelf. “No chocolate chips, but I have oatmeal with raisins and walnuts.”

Both kids took a seat at her table.  The day before she’d baked two dozen of the cookies knowing her grandkids would be back over soon enough. “You’ve tried the rest, now try Nanny’s best.” She ignored Brandon’s lingering attitude at the mention of a leather strap. The child didn’t know it, but her words were mostly idle threats. The only time she felt justified to take a belt to one of them was the day she found Brandon hiding in one of her closets playing with matches.  The little fool almost set her house on fire.

“What about you, Brandon? You sure you don’t want some cookies?”  Hattie took pride in her baking and often contributed her baked goods to various church functions.

The boy demonstrated silent stubbornness.

“Suit yourself then.” No matter how much she tried to instill good morals into her grandchildren, the more it seemed like a loosing battle. For a seven-year old, Brandon knew more curse words than she did, and didn’t mind using them. Raynita, on the other hand was plagued with sticky fingers. More times than she could recount, the girl had been reprimanded for stealing some small trinket from some local store. Hattie had to hide her purse when Nita was at her house.

            “Brandon, you sure you don’t want some cookies?”

            Brandon glared at her with tight lips.

            “Nanny, can I have some more?” Raynita asked after woofing down two cookies and half a glass of cold milk.

            “I said I don’t want no stupid cookies. Stop punking me!”

            “Punking? What? Boy, please. Honestly, you act more and more like your father every time I see you. And don’t take that as a compliment.”

Brandon frowned up at her. “Don’t be talking about my daddy either.” He stood up with balled up fists.

“Boy, I’m forty-nine years old and this is my house.  I can talk about what I want.” Hattie  fought the urge to laugh. In her heart she knew that they were good kids, but she also knew their tendency for waywardness stemmed from a poor environment. The Crenshaw District, the area where Neema lived was infested with people who had long given up the idea of doing better. As a result, many lived in poverty, their normal lives filled with baby-making for a payday, prostitution, drugs and violence.  “Is that how your mama teach you to behave?” Her tone softened, “Nita, of course you can have more cookies.”  Then to Brandon. “And you young man, you need to work on your attitude. You hear me?”

            Hattie kept waiting for that boy to say something smart back when she heard something  like her screen door being closed gently. Just one more sassy word from that boy’s mouth and she’d whack him one good time to show that she meant business. Next came the sound of a car engine starting up and the peel of tires spitting dirt as they sped away.




            “What?!  I know that trifling Neema didn’t tip out my….”  Hattie put her cookie jar down, hurried to her security door and stepped outside in time to see Neema’s 2006 black Land Rover burning rubber away from the house.

 “Neema! You get yourself back here right now! Neema!”  Furious, Hattie tried running a few seconds behind the car, but it was hopeless, not to mention dangerous with all the heat. Besides, she didn’t see the sense of giving her nosey neighbors something to talk about. Her legs ached, and smoke and dust stung her eyes.

 “Damn her!”  After a cloud of dust cleared, she pursed her lips and headed back to her house to find Raynita and Brandon arguing over a cookie.

“Cut it out you two.”  Hattie went straight to her phone to call Neema. How dare she pull a kid-dumping stunt.

            “It’s mine, give it back!” Raynita screamed, about to clobber her brother.

            “Make me, ho’.” Brandon was daring her with a clenched fist.  A cookie was clutched in his other hand. “Don’t make me hurt you!”

            Hattie hung the phone up and stared in disbelief. “Brandon! What’s wrong with you?”  This wasn’t the first time she’d seen the two argue over something trivia, but it was the first time she’d heard the boy call his sister a derogatory name.  “Young man, I don’t know what your problem is but we don’t talk like that in this house.” The two were at her house a mere three days ago and Brandon had seemed fine then. She couldn’t imagine what had transpired enough to change his attitude in such a short time frame.

            “Nanny, he snatched my last cookie!” Raynita yelled loud enough for her neighbors to hear.  “He’s always doing stuff. That’s why I hate him.”

            “Alright you two. Nita you don’t hate your brother, and Brandon if that’s her cookie, give it back.”

            Brandon tossed the bitten-off cookie to the table. “Crybaby. That’s why I can’t stand you either. You nothing but a snitch. That’s why Daddy likes me better than you.”

            “Brandon, stoppit! Nita is your baby sister and you’re supposed to look out for her.” Lordhavemercy. This was exactly what she wasn’t in the mood for- kids bickering back and forth, and acting like baby hoodlums. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but I’m tired and it’s too hot for all this.” She loved her grandkids to the core, but sometimes after spending a day or two with them she was ready to pull out her own hair. 

            “I can’t stand her, that’s why.” Brandon looked ready to throw some blows.

            “This is what happens when mothers spare the rod.” Neema was forever claiming that she was doing her best to provide structure and discipline for her two offspring, but Hattie was having a hard time seeing evidence of such.

            Brandon yelled, “It’s too hot in here! I wanna go back to daddy’s house. I didn’t wanna come to your stupid house no way.”

            “Boy, what in the world has gotten into you?”

            “I hate snitches, that’s what.”

            “Brandon, you do not hate your sister.”

            “I do so, and when I go live with my daddy I won’t even miss her telling-butt.”

            “Umph.”  Hattie shook her head as she sauntered back over to the cookie jar and removed a few. “I know your mama ain’t foolish enough to let you live with that man.”  It was wrong to bad-mouth their father to their face, but she couldn’t help how she felt. The kid’s father was notorious for his affiliations with gangs and drug dealing. Maybe even a few murders.  People talked and she’d heard enough.  It was hard to feel warm about a man that had allowed his own sick mother to starve to death.  “If you wanted some cookies, all you had to do was ask. Whatever has gotten into you, you need to control it while you’re at my house. You hear me, Brandon?”

            His only reply was a stubborn pout.

            Raynita talked with a mouth full of cookie. “Mama said he acting mannish cause he spent the night at daddy’s house. She said daddy ‘musta let him do weeds or somethin’.”

            It felt like Hattie’s heart thumped and skipped two beats. She patted her chest. “Is that true, Brandon? Your father let you try drugs?”

            “I ain’t no snitch like Nita.”

            “Little boy please, snitching is for when you talking to the police. I asked you a question. Did your father let you do drugs?”  Hattie waited with a hand on her hip.  It was hard to keep her face from frowning. So help me to God, if Neema is allowing that man to abuse this child I will go crazy on her behind!  “You can tell Nanny the truth, Brandon.” From time to time the boy spent time with his father, but each time he returned there was a remarkable change in his behavior. He acted funny, looked funny, and walked funny. Heck, sometimes Hattie thought Brandon even smelled funny after such visits.

            “Dang, Nanny, why you all up in my ‘bizness?”  Brandon wiped crumbs from his mouth with a paper towel before tossing it to the table. The tone of his young voice suggested irritation.

            Hattie raised a brow. “Boy, at seven you don’t have no business.”  She couldn’t control her kid’s lives, but if she could just convince Neema to move to a better environment, meet a nice young man and settle down, maybe Brandon and Raynita might have a chance. True, Topps Jackson was the children’s biological father but it didn’t give him a right to exploit them. It also didn’t give him the right to contribute to their budding delinquency.

            “I’ll just say this. Your father might be crazy, but I know he ain’t that crazy to be letting you try drugs. I better not hear something like this again, I know that.”

            “I said it’s my ‘bizness, Nanny, know what I’m saying?”

            Brandon looked upset enough to fight, but it didn’t stop Hattie. If it was something she needed to know.  She planned to find out one way or another.  “That’s it. Maybe you need to take a time out to work on your attitude. Get yourself on in that bedroom.”

            For a few seconds there was a stand off. Two contorted faces glaring. Hattie couldn’t believe how defiant the child was behaving. She must be getting soft because when her own kids were coming up, it wouldn’t take much for her to go get a leather belt or supple switch from her peach tree out back and get busy.  “Did you hear me, Brandon?”

            He still didn’t move.

            Hattie stepped closer. “Boy, I am not playing with you. I said get yourself into that bedroom. Now!”

            Without another word, Brandon got up and stomped from the room.

            “Lord give me strength. I’m getting too old for this mess.”  Hattie forced herself to calm down.  “Nita, what’s your mama’s cell phone number? I know I have it around here somewhere, but don’t feel like searching for it.”

            “Uh..I don’t know. She didn’t tell me her new number.”

            “What new number?” Grandmother or not, she needed to find out when Neema would be picking the kids up. The sooner she could get back to her peaceful environment. “When she get a new number?”

            Raynita stuffed the last of her cookie into her mouth.  “Daddy bought her a new phone yesterday. He took her old phone and threw it away. He bought me and Brandon a phone too, but I think I lost mine. I don’t know Mama’s new number.”

            “Oh that’s just great,” Hattie blew out a weary breath. “No way to reach your mother in case of an emergency.” Hattie shook her head. She just didn’t understand it. A lot of the young mothers of today was certainly a different breed from when she was coming up. “Oh, well,” she sighed. “Maybe she’ll call later tonight to check on you two.”

            As much as she hated the idea of it, she would have to wait it out.  Knowing Neema, it could be days before she even called to see what was going on. And then again she might not call at all. Hattie knew one thing-- when she did hear from that girl she planned to have a serious talk with her about Brandon and his visits to his father’s house. Topps Jackson shouldn’t be allowed to have visitations with stray puppies without proper supervision. Neema would probably say it was none of her business how she raised her kids, but Hattie didn’t care.  When it came to her grandkids, she planned to make it her business.