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In this cold, scheming ass world, who really got you?


Nazareth is a rowdy teen trying to take care of his family and carve out his place in Philly’s seedy underworld. Crime has been this young man’s way of life since he was a kid, so he feels right at home knee deep in blood. That is until Ciani comes along and changes his perspective on life.


Ciani is a feisty, young, gifted, and Black girl ready to save the world one day at a time. Although not a fan of breaking the law, it still doesn’t stop her from making money the sleazy way. Once the two enter each other’s worlds, things are never the same. As they grow together, they face trials and tribulations in the middle of chaos that constantly tests their bond with one another.


Do they really got each other? Take this journey through the lives of these two people as they come of age and go through love, life, and surviving in the concrete jungle.   

Once Upon A Time in Illadel  







It’s around 2am on a Thursday and I’m in the darkened kitchen of a house in Bear, Delaware placing homemade explosives around. Not enough to level a building, just enough to get their attention. Once that’s done, I ease out the backdoor and down the wood deck virtually making escape impossible, from the back at least. Afterwards, I move away for safety then detonate the explosives sending the deck and back of the house all over the backyard. With stealth skills taught to me by mentors on the block, I get ghost from the scene, but watch at a distance while the plan goes down. Glass breaks, smoke rises, flames roar, and people scream then start running out the front door or climbing out windows. Right into bullets from some snipers; it’s sounding like Vietnam the sequel out here tonight. Don’t worry, these assholes earned every bullet filling their bodies. They fucked with the wrong hood Army and got to learn the hard way. 

A black Honda cruises by me as I crouch hidden and watching the chaos. Once the car stops, I quickly get in the back then my main ace, Taji, pulls off easily. I’ve known him for three years since we met at a football camp. He’s also a D-boy in my cousin, Nick’s, crew and he’s a standup guy even though he’s only 17. Always loyal and ready for war. 

“Looks like shit went right.” He says as he tugs a neatly designed braid in his cornrowed hair then touches the minor mustache on his cinnamon toned face. 

“Yeah, we good.” I say as he turns on the radio to a Biggie Smalls song called, One More Chance. With another black Honda behind us, we get on back to Pennsylvania. Philly is home, always has been, always will be. From the papi stores aka bodegas to the gritty blocks of North, South, Southwest, and West, my city can get wild like no other. It’s Realadelphia wherever I go. Soon, both cars pull into Eli’s auto garage in West Philly, and we get out.  I stand with Taji and our other homies, Leo and Miles and we’re all dressed in dark gray coveralls and skull caps.  

“How y’all feeling?” Eli asks after he exits the backseat of the car Leo and Miles were in.

“Like Gods among men.” We reply as always.   

Mr. Eli is like a Pharoah of the Philly ghettoes and his reach can be felt here and everywhere. He’s got all sorts of connections all around the USA. He and my dad ran together as hustlers in crime when my pops was alive. I loved my dad, he was a God to me, but Eli is my idol even though he barely stands six feet tall. Although his blood kids died when they were children, he’s a father to many in the hood. He went to Vietnam in 1968 when he was 18 with the Army and became a decorated war hero. I heard the war changed him to a maniac, but I’ve only always known he was slightly disturbed, but in a genius type of way. Even as the dark-skinned, muscled, demigod could use his brawn to rule the world, he chose to use his brain. 

Philly looks up to him because he knows how to feed his whole kingdom. He owns a plethora of properties and businesses; all sorts of things too. I’m talking stuff like a renowned limo service or the 24-hour storage center or the 23-hour mini mart and that’s just a few. Plus, he employs those in need in those businesses. I never said it was all legit though. There’s also a crime element to his life where he controls a lot of drugs trafficking through his moving company throughout the city and beyond. There’s also the porn studio that he runs out of his hotel and of course, the chop shop that runs out of this spot. His family bred him on crime and are even affiliated with a Colombian cartel and mob family of the Italian mafia. In public though, he’s the man that can do no wrong in hood Philly’s eyes.    

As I look at Eli and my brothers from other mothers, I feel like we’re the 6th family or Apex predators at the top of the food chain and everyone else is prey. Before I go any further let me introduce myself; my government name is Nazareth Humza Kennedy, but most people call me either Humza or Ra. You know, after the sun God. Nicknames are my thing because my pops really looked me in my face and named me the most random shit you could name a child. Well, it’s not random; according to my father I was named after an uncle of his who killed two Klansmen in Alabama before coming up north.  

Back to business. I’m the youngest of the homies here and we’re all different heights, sizes, and skin tones, but nonetheless equal in Eli’s eyes. Eli has a bunch of disciples especially among us fatherless kids, but I just know the homies here are his favorites. Since we were kids, Eli has taken us at least once every few months on a hit. We’re no strangers to murder; shit, I was 11 years old when I caught my first body. He says it’s to keep us agile and alert. While normal kids would be appalled at the murder missions we go on, I love that quality time with my mentor.  

“Y’all get changed and take some time to do something productive for the rest of the day.” Eli says as we all start to undress. 

“Yeah, like take me home then wash y’all asses.” A playful and feminine voice says to my right. I turn that way and hold in a kiss I want to blow to the chocolate Aphrodite I’m looking at. Even though she’s just in baggy black Dickies pants, boots, and a large gray hoodie with a black bandana on her head, she’s still so damn sexy. I love and hate how she switches up between diva and tomboy because she gets hit on by both chicks and dudes. However, when she’s in the right outfit, gawd damn, she’s so tasty! Girly is only a 9th grader, but she’s already thick, tall, and tempting and good things come in threes. Plus, the icing on the cake is her intellect and home training. Shit finding a female with home training seems rare where I’m from, so that threw me off! Not only that but, she’s knowledgeable in a lot of subjects that keeps us in the right lanes be it school or job related. She should be Mrs. Kennedy in a not-too-distant future, but for now she’s Ciani. “Some of us got school to be to in just a few hours.” She says standing in the doorway of the office Eli made especially for her last month.

“Well, queen CC, how do you feel?” Eli asks.   

“Like a Goddess among men.” She responds with a smile revealing gorgeous, virtually flawless teeth surrounded by deep dimples. Even though there’s other females in Nick’s crew, she’s this group in the garage’s first lady, but she denies the title. I don’t know why; so far, she’s the number one contender. She looks out for us like the other chicks in the squad can’t imagine coming close to. While she and Taji have been friends since elementary school and she’s cool with a girl from an infamous crime family that I know, we first met through Eli. He randomly put us together on a debate team in one of his youth programs two months ago. Although I saw her knock out a female before, she’s not a rah-rah type of girl, just a Nubian geek. She was raised in the hood but is not a product of her environment.   

“How’d your night go?” Eli asks her. 

“I only managed to pull about 5G’s in tonight.” She says casually as she holds up a red Mac card. 

“Only? Hey, some of these fools can’t even pull that in a week, so be proud.”  Eli states and she nods. 

“Especially since you makin’ dough without selling ass or moving weight.” I add in while headed towards the bathroom in the sweatpants and T-shirt I had on under the coveralls.  

“You always say that,” She replies as I remove the skully then smooth down my low, but wavy hair. It’s true; most of the chicks we know have nothing more than using their bodies to make money. Ciani uses a talent she learned from a family member that is computer hacking. Not just that, but she does software programming and surfs the dark web finding all sorts of wild shit on there. Two weeks ago, she secretly helped bust up a kid porn chatroom by leaking their info to the FBI. Once me and Taji told Eli about her skills, he got her the technology she needed, and she’s been doing her thing. She raised some of his clients’ credit scores, hacked into police and court records, but mostly she hacks into bank accounts and takes money from typically the rich. Now she tells me the money amounts varies day to day, but so far Eli is not complaining.  

“Y’all get her home.” Eli orders to Taji and me just before I shut the bathroom door. Of us all, me and Taji are the closest to her. We don’t go to the same schools, but we work and chill together occasionally and be like the mod squad. When I come out, everyone is taking care of their own business elsewhere in the garage. I go to Ciani’s office where her Mary J. Blige and Ginuwine posters are on the walls and find her and Taji chatting. From an outsider’s view, they’re all huddled up and whispering like a couple in love. That’s what Taji likes for people to think too; that’s why he tries to openly flirt with Ciani, but it’s all a front. Although Taji plays ball like a beast, dresses like a thug, and walks around with pictures of naked chicks, he’s a down low gay man. 

Now so far, he's fooled everyone, but me. I pay close attention to details, and he’s been having a fling with another DL co-worker in our squad named Cedric for awhile now. I keep things to myself though since it’s not my place to judge. Yet even as I know what he is, I still get a jealous twinge when he gives Ciani’s face a kiss a little too close to her lips. I remain quiet since she’s not my girl. My pager starts beeping in my hoodie that’s on top of my backpack in the corner of her office.  

“Damn, what hoe you got feenin’ for the beefcake?” Ciani asks as she grabs her small bookbag from her desk. 

“How do you know it’s a hoe?” I ask headed towards my hoodie. 

“Because it’s 3 in the damn morning, hoe hour. Watch, go on and get it.” She says staring at me. When we’re near each other we goof around but, I feel like I get mixed signals from her. Sometimes it seems like she’s feeling the caramel Adonis then other times she looks at me like I’m trash. Now even though she does her hacking, she cares very little about the other crimes Eli’s syndicate is involved in. She doesn’t like to hear our war stories or listen to gangster rap or watch gangster movies. Everyday she tells us this is not the life we should be living, but it falls on deaf ears. Besides that, she’s with some dickhead named Loony. I know that high yellow pussy; people like him because he’s good at basketball, but he swears he’s a thug. It was a game night for him and Nick was there. He saw Loony get into a fight with an opponent and knock him out. To Nick, that made bitch ass Loony a G. That one little knockout doesn’t impress my kind because he reads bitch to me. I ain’t even going to waste too much breath on his clown ass though. I huff as I pick up the hoodie and grab the beeper. “Well?” She says making me smirk. 

“Lucky guess.” I say as I stare at the number. Yup, definitely an older freak college student looking to play.  

“Um hum, don’t forget Muffin is at my spot right now.” She says as she leads the way out the office but waits until we exit to flip the lights off.  

“Shit, I did forget.” I sigh out as I shake my head thinking of my drunk ass mom and where she might be at this hour.   

“CC, we’ll talk more about that project we discussed later. See y’all Friday night at the fundraiser.” Eli says as he stands towards the exit. He gives me and Taji handshakes and Ciani a kiss on the cheek before we leave.  

“Yo, hit up Wawa, I’m starving!” Taji says rubbing his stomach as we walk to a squatter car. Instead of taking the new black Acura I got as a gift for my 16th birthday in February, I chose a low profile whip to sport tonight.  

“Nope, I made steak and you got a plate, take us straight home Naz.” Ciani says while walking beside me.  

“Did you make me a plate too?” I ask as I pull out keys from my pocket. She pinches my cheek. 

“I actually did jerk, but that’s technically a job ya nut ass bitch should be doing for you.” She replies as I unlock the doors, but I just grunt. Taji climbs in the backseat and lies down while Ciani joins me up front.  

“Why you always coming at Dazzle?” I ask before I start the ignition. 

“Ah ha, you’re claiming that bitch now.” She says as I pull off.

“No! But that’s the one y’all swear got my heart so I said her name first.”  I state and she sucks her teeth as she digs in the little backpack she keeps in place of a purse.

“Don’t act like that stank bitch don’t. Why’d you really have to fool around with somebody at my school? Not just anybody, but the top stank bitch of them all. Her and her little hoe minions swear they’re the shit.” She says then holds out Mac cards for me and Taji. She turns straight in her seat after handing Taji his. “It’s 5 Benjis on there, get it off before 8pm tonight.”

“Got you, but back to our convo, you got Kiwi backing you, so I know you don’t be having issues with her.” 

“That hoe talks slick, especially when she thinks I’m alone. I always get mace and a blade past the metal detectors; she keeps fucking around and will find out sooner than later.” Ciani is an intelligent sweetheart, but she knows how to dumb out when needed.   

“She’s mostly talk, but I’ll get her in check.”  

“Good, dick that hoe down so she can get her shit right.”  

“Maybe noodle ass Loony needs to dick you down so Dazzle’s nut shit won’t faze you.” 

“Isaac isn’t constantly approaching you over me, somebody that you’re not in a relationship with.” She’s right, Dazzle swears me and her are boning even though she’s never witnessed us do anything remotely sexual to each other. It must be all the joking around and intimate talks that say something different, but that’s genuinely my homegirl. I’m not going to front and say that I’m not attracted to Ciani but, her being Mrs. Kennedy is just a daydream. She doesn’t want a thug; Loony makes the cut since he doesn’t really put in the work like us real ones. He gets to be legit because he can ball and Nick likes to use him as a ringer on his hood basketball team.     

“Because that clown ass nigga be fucking bitches that just want cheeseburgers.” 

“Whatever he’s doing, isn’t coming to your front door. Why don’t these bitches know we’re not a thing? Most of all, you’re a cooz hound, after anything that bleeds once a month. Do they really wait in line for ya Black ass?” She asks as she shakes her head. Since being put on that debate contest together, we’ve had a conversation or two. She knows about Francis; hell, mostly my whole maternal family has met her, and I’ve met her mom and siblings. 

While Ciani’s family is civilized and raised right, my folks are the Black Sopranos. She doesn’t judge them though. That fact intrigues me and makes me want to get to know her better. So far, I know that she’s agnostic in her religious beliefs, loves the show Living Single, and listens to Mary J. Blige often. Plus, the way she dances can put Michael Jackson to work. Her family, although poor, are like the Huxtables in my eyes, they’re kind and nurturing, but we’ll get into them later. The only messed up thing about our situation is that her mom thinks I’m gay. It’s all Ciani’s fault, but she said that’s why her mom lets me come over so much.

“I don’t even be having that many girls.”  

“Nigga please! These bitches be dizzy as shit over you.” Taji says with a snicker.  

“Naw they not.” I reply.

“Oh, you know you need an ass whupping for that lie.” Ciani says making me snicker. 

“It’s only been two or three so far in my bed.” 

“Yeah, right.” She says folding her arms across her chest. 

“I’m dead serious! That’s ever too, I don’t be running up in anything and everything despite what you think. Shit, I don’t even be kissing these chickenheads.” I state as I look over at her. She twists her face into that, you-know-you-fucking-lying, look making me suck my teeth. “Since we met, you know being real is big to me, so I give it to you straight up. I’m not bedhopping.”  

“Whatever. It’s a reason these chicks stay fighting over you. You play with their hearts.” 

“I don’t do that, but I do occasionally buy a female something as a reward, if the head is worth it. I don’t gas these chicks’ heads up; they’re just not use to guys treating them right. So, me showing some compassion throws them through a loop and they fall in love.  Blame society, not me.” I state making her laugh. 

“So, you trick on them and don’t go upside their heads all the time and that makes you a God in their eyes?” She replies making Taji laugh. 

“Indeed.” I say and she huffs with a smirk as she shakes her head.

“The arrogance on you,” She slaps me in the back of the head. “I hope your bite is as big as your bark.” She says and I give her a side grin tempted to say, by all means, when you want to find out and throw that juicy ass back on this dick, I’m with it, but I don’t. I just chuckle. She sighs, but it sounds like a pleasant action, so I look over at her and she holds another Mac card in her hand with a smile.    

“What are you all happy about?” I ask and she dances in her seat.

“I finally saved enough up so that Kéona can get her braces and Troy can get new kicks.” 

“You ain’t have to wait two months. I coulda been gave you the money.” I say holding in annoyance. “Here, take this jawn back.” I say as I pull out the card that she just gave me, but she declines it.  

“Nope, keep it.” 

“You know damn well her ass wasn’t taking it! She didn’t even tell me the heat was off until January.” Taji adds in. 

“Why you gotta be this way?!” I groan out.

“I don’t want yours or anybody’s money. I don’t do the owing people debt shit.” She states. 

“So you’d rather suffer before putting ya pride away and asking for help?” 

“I can get my own funds.” 

“Nobody is saying that you can’t, but you look out for us, especially me and my fam a lot.” 

“It’s just little stuff like cooking.” 

“And cleaning my mom’s credit and watching my sister and so much more! Just take the damn help when needed.” I state. 

After stopping at a Mac machine and getting some of our funds, we yip-yap all the way to her house in Southwest Philly. The streets are quiet, but not empty; I peep a crime or two happening here and there. Her block is sleep when I creep up to her rowhouse and double park. We all get out and wait for her to unlock the door. The indoor porch is warm and cluttered with footwear to the left. Both Ciani and Taji kick off their shoes before opening the porch door and stepping into the living room. It’s a small space full of mismatched furniture with the kitchen light on to chase away the roaches. Next to the stairs, they have a 20-inch TV/VCR combo, but with no cable. 

“I’ll get Muffin.” Ciani says in a low tone as Taji heads towards the kitchen. Her little sister was nice enough to babysit while we were away tonight. I nod and watch her take off her hoodie revealing a white tight T-shirt then head upstairs. My thoughts wander to if Taji has ever seen her naked, but I quickly let that fall to the back of my mind when I hear the microwave turn on. Soon, Ciani is coming downstairs with my almost 5-year-old sister, Latoya aka Muffin in her arms. She doesn’t look like the little terror she is in the purple footie pajamas, just a sleepy kid. 

“We goin’ home?” Muffin asks through a yawn as I reach out and take her from Ciani’s arms. 

“Yeah, go back to sleep.” I say. 

“I don’t know where her bag is.” Ciani says as she looks around for it while I dig in my pocket and pull out thirty dollars. 

“Just leave it here for now, I’ll grab it later. Give this,” I say as I hold out the cash to her. “To Kéona for me.” She nods, takes the money, then walks with me back to the front door. 

“Since you said ya mom taught you, when are you gonna do my hair?” She asks in a low tone, but I still shush her. I turn to face her and watch her take her scarf off revealing a natural thick French braid that goes past her shoulders, but not quite to her elbows.  

“T might hear you,” I whisper, but she sucks her teeth. 

“What, he knows you’re straight.” 

“He don’t need to know I do hair.” I whisper and she flags me off. 

“I thought you were secure in your manhood, it’s no big deal.” 

“I know and I am, but you’re the only one that knows that secret.” 

“You get to know his,” She says softly. 

“He doesn’t know that I know and it’s bad enough ya mom thinks I’m gay, I don’t need no other shit to get the rumors started.” I state and she shakes her head and rolls her eyes. 

“Goodnight to the both of you.” She says then gives me a hug with Muffin in my arms before I exit her house. She watches from the door as I put Muffin in the backseat then get in the driver’s seat and pull off. At this time of hour the expressway is clear, so the drive to North Philly is quick. I park the squatter on the corner then carry Muffin up the street to our house. It’s on a block full of raggedy rowhomes, but ours is slightly different. First off, our house is three rowhomes turned to one, so we got some space. When I open the door, we have an indoor porch where we keep our coats, backpacks and other stuff. The light is on and bright, so we squint. I can hear Just My Imagination by The Temptations playing as well as smell the weed in the air.   

“Go to bed.” I order to Muffin as I put her down. The porch door suddenly swings open and a honey toned, emerald green eyed, about to be 33-year-old, slender and 5’5 woman stares at me. She’s still all overly dressed up in her name brand clothes and shoes even for this time of night.

“Where the fuck you been at all damn night wit my child?!” She roars out. Her name is Francis and I can smell the booze on her breath and see her stagger as she tries to pick up Muffin. I step into the walkway with stairs in front of me already annoyed with my mother.  

“Hey Humza!” Tammy, mom’s friend of the week, says to me from the dining room and bar area on my right. The big Henny bottle comes to sight making me sigh. I tilt my chin up and wave then turn my attention back to Francis. Looking at her now, no one can tell she lived in Arkansas until her and my aunt Virginia ran away when they were 14 and 16. Even though they were green-eyed beauties, they found themselves penniless in Memphis until some hustlers from Philly came through and led them to better living. Both became the talks of the town for their looks, but while my mom tried to do something with herself in the beginning by going to cosmetology school, Aunt Virginia was more into heroin than anything else. She lucked up and met Marcus, Nick and Muffin’s dad. Don’t act like y’all don’t know a few cousins/siblings. 

Anyway, he tried to make her legit, but she loved the needle more than being an honest woman, so she left town when Nick was ten. With Aunt Virginia gone, Francis picked up the slack for Nick’s absentee mother. Marcus developed a thing for Francis, but she, at first, wasn’t into him. She did use him for money and even though she went on to have two kids by two other men, he still had a flame for her. She got a hair salon out of him, and I guess felt she owed him, so she gave him a daughter. They became a couple for two years until he ended up going to prison for life for murder.    

“Ma, she’s fine, go back to what you was doing.” I say as I guide Muffin upstairs.  

“That ain’t the question I asked nigga! Where ya been?” She questions and I look over at her. Yeah, she has the salon, but barely keeps it afloat. Francis is a party girl that likes shaking her ass and getting high. Now the salon is mostly just a front to wash cash through. 

“Whatchu think?” I reply as I dig in my pocket and pull out a folded over wad of cash. She sucks her teeth and flags me off but, like I thought she shuts up. I follow Muffin upstairs and make sure she’s nice and comfy before checking on my 13-year-old brother, Esteban, in his room. Out of us three kids, he’s the only one with his father fully in his life. He’s asleep with the TV on so I go to the bathroom to shit then shower. Once I’m done, I get in my room and while still in a towel, I count my money. Murder is something I’m good at but not my main job for Eli. When I’m not sending some fool to their maker, I’m out committing grand theft auto.  Tonight, between that, the hit, and Ciani’s gift, I got about two G’s. Some people don’t get that in a month, so I’m not bitching. 

As I look at the Mac card, Ciani pops into my head. It’s not her place to pay me and Taji out of her money but, she does so anyway. She says it’s for getting her in good with Eli business wise, but I feel she didn’t need us to do that. However, she feels otherwise and she’s a stubborn motherfucker, so we let her have her way. Well, most of the time. When she gives me money, I just have Eli invest it in one of his businesses on her behalf behind her back. I know she wants to go to a HBCU when she graduates high school. By the time she’s eighteen, she’ll have a nice grip of cash to do whatever her heart desires. My beeper goes off again making me remember I never hit my college freak back, but this page is from another girl. 

As I scratch at the Ra figure tattooed on my right bicep, that makes me think of the conversation between me and Ciani in the car. I wasn’t lying when I said I only had sex with three chicks so far, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get head from others. These hoes is hoes! I barely kiss females and I ain’t trying to be nobody’s baby daddy or AIDS patient. 

The pager goes off again, but this page is from Dazzle. Damn, is every bitch in the city up right now? Her ass can wait until I wake up for a response. I only fuck with her because Leo wanted me to run interference while he bangs her cousin, but she comes from a known family of associates to Nick too. Me dealing with her is good financially for our crew, but I have no feelings for the bitch. The cordless phone in my room on the nightstand rings and I already know the caller before I even pick up. 

“Didn’t I say call when you got in?!” Ciani yells on the other end. 

“My bad. We safe, goodnight.” 

“Goodnight!” She says then hangs up on me making me smile. Maybe I like her because she’s not my groupie and treats me like shit. Whatever, all is well that ends well. 



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