My whole life, I've never been brave. I’ve never stared down anything that didn’t whip my ass first. That’s the way it is with me, always thinking what I should have done after the time to do it was over.

           That's how it was that night, when those three white kids piled out of that Land Rover screaming, "Nigger thieves, go back to the jungle!" I was running scared before I ever saw the metal baseball bat one of them was swinging.

           Deep down, I knew they were part right. I was a damn thief. I'd crossed Decatur Avenue into Hillsboro with Bonds and Asa, looking for a Lexus to heist. But I was no "Nigger", not the way they meant it, even if that's what me and my friends called each other all the time.

           I tripped on the cracked sidewalk, banging my chin on the concrete and scraping my palms raw. Bonds and Asa jetted down the block like their asses were lit on fire. But before I could get back up, the footsteps of those racist bastards were right on top of me.

           I recognized the fat kid from around school—before he'd dropped out. I never knew his name. He cocked the bat in both hands, and I nearly shit myself.

           The skinny dude was kicking at me when I heard the air whistle next to my left ear. CRACK! The fat kid slammed me in the side of the head with that bat, and a lightning bolt of pain shot through me.

           I could feel the warm blood on my face and taste it dripping into my mouth. For a few seconds I was seeing double, and there were six of them instead of three.

           "You wanna steal from white people, huh?" screamed the tall kid with the beard, trying to take the sneakers off my feet. "See how you like it!"

           My legs started peddling on instinct, like I was on a ten-speed, fighting him off.

           "Give 'em over!" barked the fat kid through his clenched teeth, cocking the bat again.

           I brought my arms up to protect my skull. That's when the fight in my legs quit, and they stole the sneakers. Then the tall kid dug his nails into my ear, ripping out the diamond stud. I tried to slam my fist down on his foot. But I missed, and punched the pavement instead.

           They howled over that and got back into their black Land Rover, giving each other high-fives like they'd just won some big ball game.

           My head was pounding so bad it hurt to think, but I reached into my pocket for my cell and called Bonds. A minute later, I heard sirens twisting through the streets, till the cops and EMS showed up.

           The next time I saw that aluminum bat, detectives were asking me to ID it in the hospital. I was lying in a bed, with Dad, Mom, and Grandma there.

           It was sealed up inside a plastic bag.

           Mom shrieked at the sight of it, squeezing my hand so tight she almost cut off my pulse.

           "Lord, no!” she cried. “They didn't use that on my baby!"

           The meat part of the bat was stained with my blood, and some of my hair was stuck on that spot, too.

           It was like somebody had pulled a nightmare out of my brain, holding it up in the light for me to look at.

           I reached out to touch it, just to feel how solid it really was. Only the detective wouldn't let me.

           "Rules of evidence," he said.

           My eyes moved slowly up its black handle, with every part of me shaking. Then I saw the logo across the red aluminum barrel-- the gold letters that spelled out R-E-S-P-O-N-S-E.

 



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