Excerpt: ‘Your House Will Pay’

Read the opening of Steph Cha’s crime novel, our June California Book Club selection.

steph cha, your house will pay

Well, this is it,” said Ava. “I don’t know how we’re supposed to find these fools.”

Shawn gaped at the crowd gathered across the street. The movie wasn’t supposed to start for another hour and a half, but there had to be hundreds of people waiting outside the theater. It was dark already, too, hard to make out faces even with the neat row of lamps lining the sidewalk. Ava said Westwood was white people territory, but almost everyone here was black, a lot of them high school kids. They’d have to get closer to pick out Ray and his friends.

Ava grabbed Shawn’s hand as they crossed the street. He pulled back, thinking of all those older kids seeing him get dragged along by his sister. “Aw, Ave, I’m not a baby,” he said.

“Who said you were a baby? I just don’t want to lose you.”

They walked slowly down the sidewalk, starting from the box office, where the marquee overhead announced the showtimes for New Jack City. Shawn smiled. He’d been looking forward to this night all week. Everyone at school was talking about this movie, and he was going on opening night. It didn’t matter that Aunt Sheila had made Ray and Ava take him when they said they’d be watching White Fang. He was here now, sneaking into an R-rated movie, just like them.

“Ava! Shawn!”

He turned to see Ray coming toward them. Ray’s best friend, Duncan, was with him, his face lit up with a big grin. Shawn let go of Ava’s hand, hoping they hadn’t seen.

“There you are,” she said. “This is crazy. We gotta wait in that line? Don’t tell me you gave up our spot.”

“That’s the line to get tickets,” said Duncan. “We already got ours.” He made a show of fanning them out with both hands while Ray whooped and danced behind him.

“You guys are stupid.” Ava laughed. “See, Shawn, this is what happens when you cut school to go to a movie.”

“Hey, show some gratitude. We been here for hours,” said Ray. He balled his hand into a fist and shook it at Shawn. “And you remember what happens if you tell Mom.”

“I ain’t scared of you, Ray. But Aunt Sheila’d whup all three of us.”

Ray laughed and put his fist down. He was just joking anyway. He knew Shawn would keep his mouth shut. He hadn’t told on Ray or even Ava since he was too young to know better. And if he did want to get them in trouble, he had plenty of other ways. Hell, if Aunt Sheila wouldn’t let them see a gang movie, what if she knew Ray was in a real gang?

She wouldn’t understand it. Not like Shawn did. Aunt Sheila knew there were gangs, but she talked about them like they weren’t her problem. She never warned her boys not to join. She just acted like she didn’t have to, seeing as she didn’t raise troublemakers and thugs. Her boys weren’t like those bad ones. The ones who shot dogs for spite and disobeyed their mothers.

But it seemed like half the kids in the neighborhood were in gangs. A few of them were scary—the dude who shot his neighbor’s dog, he was a legit bad dude—but not the ones Shawn knew. Duncan was intimidating but not in that way. He was just larger than life, funny and slick and popular with girls, the kind of guy Shawn hoped he might be when he turned sixteen. And there was no one in the world less scary than Ray. Shawn should know—they’d shared a room since Shawn was five. Ray wore Spider-Man boxers under all his slick blue gear. He sang songs from the radio in a girl voice to make Shawn laugh before they went to sleep. Ray and Ava were the same age, but Ava teased him like another younger brother, giving him crap for his goofy haircuts, his bad grades. If Ray was a Crip, anyone could be a Crip.•

Excerpted from Your House Will Pay, by Steph Cha, with the permission of Ecco. Copyright © 2019 by Stephanie Cha.

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Steph Cha is the author of the novels Your House Will Pay, Follow Her Home, Beware Beware, and Dead Soon Enough.
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