I stood in front of the gate. It would open soon. The start of a new life. My name is Nikki Vataro, and today I turned seventeen. However, it hasn’t been an easy seventeen years. I spent the past three and a half years in juvenile detention for drug dealing charges. Well, I could have done worse things. On my own since I was eleven, I had to make money somehow, right?
Anyway, it is over now. Scott, my counselor, has set up a place for me to live, work and go to school with his college roommate who now owns a bar and also happens to be a juvenile probation officer. It took some doing to get the judge to agree, but since I’d been the model inmate for the past two years, he agreed with the plan. The truth is, being caught so early was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Scott is a cool guy. He took me under his wing and is like a big brother to me. When he told me what he’d set up for me, I was hesitant, but since Scott had been there for me, I figured it was worth giving it a shot. It can’t possibly be worse than what I just went through.
Twelve o’clock, the gate is opening. There was enough money left in my account to get some clothes. I bought two new pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, a pair of sneakers and a train ticket, and I still had $71.11 left in my account. I was never sure how the money got there, but somehow it was always there at the beginning of the month.
Okay, here we go, I thought. I shook hands with the guards at the gate and they all wished me well. Scott was waiting outside for me.
“You ready for this?”
“I guess so,” I replied.
“Come on, I’ll take you to the train station.” We had a few minutes before the train arrived. “Here’s the information you’ll need. Make sure you get in touch with Mr. Taylor as soon as you get settled in.”
“Who is he?”
“A friend, he’ll explain everything.”
“I don’t know how to thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have made it without you.”
“Sure you would have. You’re a good kid that was handed a bad deal way too early in your life. Just remember I’m here for you if you need me.”
I thanked him again, gave him a hug, and got on the train.
I stood in front of the Sling Shots Bar and Grill. Two trains, a cab, and four hours later I was here. Going through Penn Station was easy. I pretty much lived there for two years of my life, so I knew my way around. I got on the train to Long Island as fast as I could so I wouldn’t run into any of my old crew. If I saw someone, or they saw me, I might not have made it out of the station.
Four o’clock and the place looked deserted. Something told me this couldn’t be good. I went in and walked up to the bar.
“I’m looking for Mike. He’s expecting me.”
“Yeah, who are you?” the old man behind the bar asked.
“Office is in back, through there, first door on the left.”
“Thanks.” I walked through the kitchen doors. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Mike.”
“He‘ll be back in a minute,” the cute guy behind the desk said. “And you are?”
“Nikki Vataro, Scott Anderson arranged for me to work here.”
“He said you should wait in here. I thought you would be taller.”
“Great opening line you got there, stud.”
“What?” he replied, looking up at me.
“You thought I would be taller. No ‘hello my name is… welcome… come in have a seat.’ Just I thought you would be taller.”
“Sorry, my name’s Kenny, Mike’s my dad.”
I leaned against the doorjamb. “Nice to meet you.” I gave him a sly look. I was staring at him without even realizing it. He was about 5’9” or 10”, maybe 180 pounds with dark black eyes and hair to match. The shirt he was wearing showed off a muscular-looking build.
“Come in, sit down.”
“Thanks, but I’ll stand. What did you mean by ‘I thought you’d be taller’?”
“Scott said you were a really good basketball player. Basketball players are usually tall, so I thought you’d be taller.” He shrugged. “That’s all.”
I could see what he meant. I’m only 5’4” tall, with shoulder length wavy black hair. I wouldn’t consider myself beautiful, but I’m not ugly either. Let’s say average, maybe even cute. I weight about 125 pounds, and I’m in pretty good shape. And yes, I am really good at basketball. After all, I had plenty of time to practice.
“I’m not here to play basketball. I’m here to work and go to school. The less time I have to spend at school the better.”
“Who have we got here?” a voice said from behind me.
"Dad, this is Nikki.”
“Huh, I thought you would be taller.” He offered his hand for me to shake and headed behind the desk.
“Now I know where you get if from.” I looked at Kenny with a sarcastic smile.
“Sit down. Kenny, can you give us a minute?”
“Yeah, I have to stock the bar anyway.”
Stock it for what? I thought. There wasn’t anyone in the place.
“Let me tell you what I expect from you around here. Scott says you’re a great kid that has had some bad breaks. We'll have to see if that’s so. You’ll mostly be working nights, so you can go to school during the day. You will go to school. You will not deal drugs or get in any kind of trouble at all. You will get at least B’s in all your classes. From what I’ve read in your file here, that shouldn’t be a problem. You’ll work every night except Tuesday and Friday because they’re game days.”
Why do I get game days off? Am I only here because I can play ball? Basketball must be very important to these people. Did Scott tell them I would play for their team?
Mike continued, “There’s an apartment upstairs from the bar that you can stay in. The rent is cheap, and yes, you will pay rent. When you’re not in school or working, your time is your own. You can do whatever you want as long as it’s legal. You have any problem with any of this?”
“Good, then we’ll get along just fine. Any questions?”
“Just one. What do people around here know about me?”
“You mean your past?”
“Nothing, no need getting off to a bad start. For now, we'll just tell people you’re the daughter of an old friend that needs to work some things out.”
“That’ll work. Thanks.”
“Kenny will show you the apartment. You can relax and get settled in tonight. You can start work Wednesday. Oh, and by the way, happy birthday.”
“Thanks. To be honest, I forgot it was my birthday.”
“Well, I hope today is the start of a new life.” He called Kenny back in.
“Show her the apartment and get her something to eat.”
“Sure, Dad. Come on.”
“Nikki, if you need anything, just ask. I know it sounds like a lot to take in, but I’m here to help you,” Mike said.
Yeah right, I’ve never heard of a probation officer that was actually there to help.
“The apartment’s upstairs. We can go through the back.” As we headed up the steps, I noticed a sign saying “Reserved for Renter” in front of the parking space by the steps. That would be great if I had a car. Make mental note: get a car, but I better get my driver’s license first.
He opened the door and flipped on the light.
“This is it. Not bad, huh?”
“It’s only temporary, so it’ll do.”
“The kitchen is over there, bedroom and bathroom through that door.”
It was small, but it was bigger than the room I shared with three others in the detention center. There was a couch, recliner, two tables with a lamp on one and a small TV that looked about twenty years old in the den area. At least the TV had a remote. The refrigerator was stocked with food and soda. The basics, bread, milk, eggs and some fruits and vegetables. There were cereal and chocolate chip cookies in the cabinet as well. There was a king-size bed in the bedroom that didn’t leave much room to get around, but it was a nice change from the small cot I’d slept on for three and a half years and the ground I slept on for the two before that. A dresser on the far wall also seemed to be very old. Believe it or not, the bathroom seemed to be the biggest room in the apartment, but the lime-green and pink tiles on the wall were not a choice I would have made.
“This is great, thanks.”
“Get settled in and come back downstairs for something to eat. We’ll be getting busy in about fifteen minutes, so I have to get back to work.” He threw the key on the counter and headed out. “Oh, and don’t forget to call Mr. Taylor. There’s a cell phone on the table over there that he left for you.”
Busy, I wonder what they consider busy, and who is this Mr. Taylor person, and why is it so important I call him?
It didn’t take me long to empty my bag into the dresser in the bedroom. I went into the den and tried the TV. It had cable connected to it with more channels than I would ever need. There was a business card for Mr. Taylor next to the phone, so I picked up the phone and made the call.
“Hi, this is Nikki Vataro. It seems to be important that I get in touch with you.”
“Yes, Nikki, I’ve been expecting your call.”
“Why is it so important I talk with you?”
“I’m in the middle of something now and will be tied up all day tomorrow. Since I’ll need some time to explain things to you, I’ll have to meet you tomorrow night. Is that good for you?”
“I guess so, but can you give me an idea of what this is about?”
“I’ll explain tomorrow. Are you at the Sling Shots Bar?”
" I’ll meet you there around eight o’clock.” Then he hung up.
I stared at the card. What the hell was this all about? Who is this guy? The name sounds familiar, but I can’t remember from where or when.
I hadn’t really eaten anything all day so I was hungry. I went downstairs to see what I’d gotten myself into and grab a bite to eat. I wasn’t sure if I should use the back door again, so I walked around to the front. To my surprise, the parking lot was starting to fill up. Maybe this place did do some business after all.
When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a seat at the bar free. Mike was behind the bar now with the old guy, and they looked busy. Most of the tables were full, and Kenny was talking to a girl over by the bar.
“Hey, this place looks pretty busy. Is there someplace else in walking distance I can go grab a bite to eat?”
“You can stay here. It’s just the Monday night football crowd coming in. Sunday and Monday are our busiest days. That’s why we need more help around here. You can sit at the table in the corner. There’s a menu on the table. I’ll be over in a minute to take your order.”
“That table’s reserved. Are you sure I should sit there?”
“Yeah, it’s our table. You know, for the crew to have a place when they take their breaks,” Kenny explained.
I sat and looked at the menu. There was only about fifteen items on it, but the basics were there.
“What can I get you?” He was staring at me as he spoke. It was a little weird, but since I was staring at him before, I let it go.
“They look pretty busy behind the bar, maybe I should help them.”
“They’ll be fine. You should eat something.”
“If you’re sure, I’ll have a burger and a salad.” I try to limit my intake of grease, so I passed on the fries.
“You must be Nikki? Hi, I’m Joe,” a guy said as he slid into the booth next to me.
“I’m Laura, this is Tom and Britney.”
“Hi, how are you doing?” they all announced as they all slid in to the booth.
“I guess the reserved sign is for show.” I shrugged.
“It okay,” Joe said. “We’re Kenny’s friends. We sit here all the time.”
“Oh, well, if you’re Kenny’s friends, I’m sure it’s okay.” I said it with a little attitude. I’m not sure why. I guess maybe I was a little nervous about meeting new people. I felt as if I didn’t have control.
“She doesn’t look that tall, I thought she’d be taller. She’s cute though, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, short but cute.”
“Hey, I’m sitting right here,” Britney said to Joe.
“What, I can’t look?”
Getting the feeling that Britney was Joe’s girlfriend and didn’t appreciate the cute comment, I thought I should change the subject. There was no point getting off on the wrong foot with the girls.
“What is it with everyone thinking I’d be taller?”
“When Kenny told us about you, he said you were supposed to be a really good basketball player. Since basketball players are usually tall, we just thought you’d be taller.”
“Did all you guys rehearse that line?”
“No, why?” Laura asked.
“No reason. What else did Kenny say about me?”
“Not much, just that you’re the daughter of one of his father’s friends and that you needed to get away from home for a while. He said you were coming here to work for his father and play basketball for our team.”
“That’s half right. I am here to work for his father and I will be going to school, but I will not be playing basketball for any team.”
“I guess she isn’t as good as they say.”
“I’m not sure what they say, but I play for myself, not a team.”
Kenny came over with my food. “I see you’ve met the gang.”
“Yeah, we were just getting to know one another.”
“You guys aren’t giving her a hard time, are you?” Kenny asked.
“Would we do that?” Joe said as he took a bite out of my burger.
“Can I get you anything else?”
“No, I’m good.”
“I’ll have what she’s having. Only make it fries instead of the salad.”
Tom ordered the same. The girls just had a salad.
“Nikki, give that to Joe. I’ll get you a new one.”
“So, where you from?” Britney asked.
“Originally from Brooklyn, but I’ve been upstate the past few years.”
“Do you like it up there?”
“Not really. I like the city life better. There’s always something going on.”
Another girl came up to the table, introduced herself as Lisa, Kenny’s girlfriend, and sat down. The others gave her a look. They seemed to be annoyed she sat down. Kenny came back with the food, and Lisa got up and gave him a kiss, but he didn’t look to happy to see her. It got quiet at the table after that. I figured that they weren’t too fond of Lisa. I ate my food, excused myself, and went behind the bar to help.
“Mike, is there anything I can do?”
“This is as good a time as any to see what you got, kid.”
It was a faster pace than when I did the bartending for the warden’s parties, but I was able to handle it pretty good. Mike stood behind me and took the money, while I made the drinks and got the beers. After about ten minutes, I noticed it got very quiet in the place. I looked up and noticed everyone was watching me like I was putting on a show. I guess I was. Spinning the bottles, mixing the drinks, popping open the beer bottles—it was fun.
Excerpted from "The Pact: Nikki & Kenny Series Book 1" by Juliann Vatalaro. Copyright © 0 by Juliann Vatalaro. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.