A-a-a-abba? Abba? ... Abba was gone. Dinah had recovered from her fall but had hit bottom again—this time it was drugs. The only way your father could pursue his kickboxing career and raise his family was to pack up Ariel, Daniel and Josiah and move to your grandmother Viola's home in Braden-ton, Fla., so she could watch the boys while he flattened men across America. You stayed with your mom, doing the same to the youth of Brooklyn. But Abba was gone, and abracadabra didn't work from a thousand miles away.
Three years passed. Abba moved back to New York, but your mother was growing desperate to feed you and her two other young sons, your half-brothers Eliada and Katon. She gave up in '89, when you were 12, and moved with you three to her parents' property in Hope Mills, N.C., a few miles south of Fayetteville.
You took a walk and looked around. At the mongrels padding down dirt roads. At the pine trees murmuring with the wind. At the one-floor brick houses dotting the cornfields, and at the trailer you'd moved into, just off Chicken Foot Road. Oh...my...God. How had this happened to you, Abba's most hyper, hip-hop kid?
You called Brooklyn, hungry for news. Daniel was in a boxing tournament. Ariel and Josiah were training with Abba at Gleason's too. They were living your dream while you sat in the heat, brushing flies off your cheeks. There was only one thing to do.
You got yourself thrown out of Hope Mills Middle School for fighting. Ditto at South View Middle School when you pulverized the face of that cop's kid. Next was Massey Hill Alternative School, for troubled youths. Three weeks after you got there, in '91, a kid snatched your milk at lunch. Damned if you hadn't learned Abba's karate moves. One elbow strike spilled the boy's top teeth onto the floor and left so much meat flapping from your arm that it took 26 stitches to knit it back. You were expelled a third time, ticketed for a juvenile detention center. It was the darkest moment of your life.
The brightest moment of your life.
Abracadabra. Abba signed a letter promising the court he'd vouch for your behavior. He'd take you under his wing. At 15, with your fists, you'd done it. You'd made it to the furnace of your father's love.
You remember. You approached the 6½-bedroom house in Flatbush, clutching your suitcase. The brown Doberman growled in the front yard. The black rottweiler growled in the back. The sign said BEWARE OF DOG, but a few steps later, on the front door, a second sign said NEVER MIND THE DOG. BEWARE OF OWNER. You were home.
You walked inside. In an aquarium in the dining room five pythons writhed. Everywhere were lions, the symbol of Judah, carved or stuffed. On the back of a black jacket lying over an armrest was the image of another lion, blood dripping from its fangs.