It took years for Bebe Pink to lose everything.
I met her like I did most of the worst: As a rookie patrol in 2002. Bebe didn’t have much then—just a rap sheet long as the complete works of Shakespeare, only bloodier.
I flipped through it as she stared me down in interrogation. It was all bookings, no convictions: Assault. ADW. Kidnapping. Robbery. Possession with intent. Murder 1 to 3. Bebe had the distinction of surviving 1994—the great, unsung hot war in New Orleans that left more dead than anywhere but the Balkans. And she had something else noted.
She had a daughter.
Pink, Bella; age 2; 5-pounds-plus at birth.
I asked about her.
Bebe made her mouth a stitch and let her stare do the talking. Even the tattoos dripping over every inch of her hardly moved. Until I looked down.
They tell you not to break eye contact with a mad dog.
In less than a second, Bebe was half across the table, all gold teeth and barking. “We done here, Patrolgirl?”
“We’re done when I say.”
“Go ahead and say. I got a daughter to care for.”
After two hours of letting her stew, my heart broke and the cuffs opened. Witnesses had changed their stories even before I’d booked Bebe at the Fifth District anyway.
I watched her leave. She loped from three bullet wounds she’d taken before she’d made it middle school, not for the sake of gangster style. I wondered how much more Desire would take from her before her daughter grew. I wondered how much more Bebe would take in kind.
I could never have guessed. I don’t count that high.
1994 was New Orleans’ First World War. 2002 was Blitzkrieg.
It came out of nowhere. It ran on coke money and assault rifles and child soldiers. It only got worse.
It got so that I saw Bebe Pink’s name on the hot sheet every day:
Bebe Pink accused of burning down the crack house on Law Street. Bebe Pink said to have shot up the Carver Desire Church. Bebe Pink back in Bywater ICU.
Bebe Pink could’ve saved her rent money and moved Bella into the hospital.
She was in there with stab wounds and gunshots and alligator-teeth bruises from bike chains. She broke knuckles four times over, lost every other tooth that wasn’t gold, lost a piece of her thigh to friendly fire.
I tried hard as I could to make her lose that little girl.
Whenever I dropped into Bywater, Bella was cradled in her Mama’s arms. A true Hallmark moment. But we didn’t live on a greeting card. We lived on a waiting list for the morgue.
That girl needed out.
Nobody would listen. Not Andsell, claiming his hands were tied by Social Services. Not Social Services, faulting the cops. Not even Captain Mahoney.
Especially not Captain Mahoney.
“My informant’s a better mother than half the slags in this District,” he snarled at me. And you didn’t ask Durham Mahoney twice.
Bebe Pink had her nice little spider web all set up. Mahoney protected her custody. She ran the streets. Desire’s streets put food in Bella’s mouth.
Like all spiders’ webs, it broke apart.
The first loss Bebe couldn’t regain was her eye.
Will Clementine, lord of the rival Old Crows, pulled it out after he kidnapped her. Then he did things to baby Bella neither she or her mother would live at peace with.
Bebe got away with Bella. Her revenge made the war only worse. Triple digits by midsummer in 2004.
By 2005, Bebe, her friends and enemies were out to break records again.
Katrina broke all that and swept it away.
No crack ring. No bodyguards. No three-bedroom dream house on Feliciana for her and Bella.
Bebe had lost it all.
Bebe came back when New Orleans was still peaceful.
She squatted in a washed-out tattoo parlor. She planted a posy garden with Bella. When her crew came back, Bebe put them to construction work.
Then Carlos Mendoza turned up planted in one of their construction sites and word came to my Narco desk that Bebe was behind it.
I couldn’t believe my luck when a search of her squat turned up 10 kilos of coke. Miracles did happen. I’d caught the original one that got away.
Bebe had as much to say in interrogation as at our first meeting. But Social Services listened this time. Audra Sawyer was the case worker, and she swept down on Bebe like a valkyrie to take Bella to safety.
The day before Audra was to submit her custody order to the court, they found her in eighteen pieces on the Claiborne Street bridge.
Audra’s replacement took a pass on taking Bella Pink from Bebe’s custody.
Bebe dropped by my FEMA-trailer office with Bella after she left lockup. She leaned on the door like a stick spun of scars and ink. Both eyes looked glass.
“See this girl?”
I did. Bella was rail thin. Disney princess dress and haunted house eyes. Sadder than a little girl should ever be. And twice as mean as she was sad.
“You don’t take this girl,” Bebe said.
“Better the streets take her?”
“The streets feed her, bitch,” Bebe smirked. “And they’ve got to through me get her.”
I watched them go. Both with the same lope.