Order a Copy of American Messiah

Chapter 1

Long Island, New York

Harlem in his rearview mirror and a sparkling sun overhead, Deacon drove east on the Long Island Expressway. He was enjoying the ride in his brand new 1965 navy blue Mustang convertible when his mind downshifted to the middle of night phone call from Stacks.

There is nothing like receiving a call from your childhood friend in the middle of the night to peak your curiosity, he thought. He thought about turning back several times, but a long drive is just what he needed. He hadn’t seen his former friend in a couple of years and the last time he saw him he thought about killing him.

He had known Stacks all of his life, and had never known him to be afraid of anything. But, there was terror in his voice. And that in turn frightened Deacon. He spotted the exit sign up ahead and moved over into the right lane.

It was another half hour drive once he pulled off the highway. His mind replayed last night’s events as he cruised through a succession of rich, the number growing fewer as he neared the tip of Long Island. And then he spotted the house at the top of the hill.

He was taken aback by the luxurious compound. The estate consisted of six and half acres of beach front property consisting of a palatial main house, a six car garage, a guest cottage, a boathouse, and a large stable.

All he could think of was how far Stalks had come since delivering news papers as a boy. Deacon reached out and mashed the buzzer at the gate and waited for a response.

“What business do you have here,” a hefty male voice asked.

“Ah, could you tell Stakes…ur Mr. Clayton that Deacon is here to see him.” There was a long pause and the giant gates swung open. Deacon drove up the driveway that split through the seaside property, the white gravel popping beneath the tires.

Approaching the house, Deacon spotted a phalanx of classic automobiles parked inside the garage. He could only shake his head.

Deacon was greeted by a suited behemoth noticeable absent of a neck, and was told where to park. After exiting the car, Deacon was led down a white brick walkway leading to the massive red doors.

Before he could knock, a maid, uniformed in black and white, greeted him with a paper machete smile. Just inside the door, Deacon was overwhelmed by the sheer opulence, including an enormous crystal chandelier, exotic paintings, and a museum of Italian sculptures. The whole was painted in a sobering array of class, culture, and conventionality.

As his eyes swept over the interior, Deacon spotted another hunk of a man, outfitted with a holster and gun over his starched white shirt and his eyes surveying Deacon’s every move.

“Follow me, sir, said the maid. “Mr. Freeman will receive you in the den.” Deacon soon found himself in a spacious waiting area, garnished with large Greek columns, the floor made of checkerboard marble tiles.

Throwing open the twin door, she beaconed for Deacon to enter. The den was as impressive as the front of the house, Mahoney paneling, fine furnishing, s and a bar large enough to service a good size nightclub.

“Would you require anything while you wait,” she asked. Deacon shook his head and the woman backed out of the room, ceremoniously closing the doors behind her. He asked himself again why he had bothered to come at all. He no longer considered Stakes a friend. Hadn’t for some time, considering what he had done. Perhaps, he was hoping to hear that his former friend had fallen on hard times, and to revel in his misfortune.

While waiting he wondered about the room studying the many photographs decking the walls. The first one to catch his eye was a nearly life-size portrait of Jade. She was a spectacular beauty with eyes that reached into a man’s soul. The portrait remembered him that he was still in love with her and perhaps would always be. She was the sun, and all over women but candles by comparison.

On the desk sat a photo of the old gang, famed in antique silver. It was taken on a Sunday. He remembered the day it was taken. They were all there: Hannibal, Loveboy, Jade, Clayton, Mandy, Mooch, and himself. The sight of them together tethered his mind to the good old days.

“Takes you back, don’t it,” a voice said, shattering the fond reverie. How you been, Deacon ol’ boy?”

“Apparently, not as good as you, Stakes. Oh, I’m sorry. It’s Mr. Clayton Freeman III now, isn’t it? Clayton ignored the remark and continued. “I want to thank you for coming. I going to have a drink; let me make you one. I got some single malt Scotch flown all the way from Scotland.

“Whatever, man,” Deacon replied with total indifference.

Clayton went behind the bar and opened a small crate; lifting a dusty old bottle from its straw and paper wrapping. Clayton still could tell when his former friend was stalling, but for what he didn’t know. He decided to help the conversation along.

“What the hell am I doing out here, man? I don’t hear from you for nearly two years and then you call in the middle of the night. Looks like you got the whole world on a string. What could you possibly want with me, Deacon asked, his tone callous and condescending. “Was it to show me that you’ve made to the top? Something you promised everyone who would listen.”

“How is the old gang,” asked Clayton.

“Everyone’s great, like you give a damn.”

“Alright, I’m a piece of shit! I get the point,” said Clayton

“Why don’t you just tell me why you called,” demanded Deacon, fighting the urge to walk out.

“I’m in trouble, Deacon, real deep shit. With all of my money, my life isn’t worth two cents.”

“Why call me?”

“Could you cut the shit and just listen.” There was a deep silence as both men eyed each other.

“Five years ago I got into bed with some bad people. There are the kinds of people that you don’t want to piss off. But, I had no choice at the time. The banks weren’t about to loan me the amount of money that I was going need to make the move I was contemplating, a move that would allow me to play with the big boys.”

Clayton gulped down half the glass before continuing. “For two years I turned over prime Manhattan real estates, several of which were colossal deals. Using a dummy corporate account and some front men, I was able to gain access to a game that has always been barred from people like me.”

“As I said, why call me,” repeated Deacon, throwing down the scotch in a single gulp. “Why don’t you just give these men what they want and the problem goes away.”

“Deacon, you don’t understand how the game works. You see these good ole boys club on Madison and Five Avenues is as ruthless as the Mafia. They got wind of my backdoor dealing making and bought up my makers before I could pay the money back.

“In buying my maker, they bought me. They tried to get me to sign my corporation over to them, and for a fraction of what it’s worth. When I refused, they tried to have me killed. In sum, it’s my money or my life.

Clayton paused to ponder into his drink before continuing. “They sent a few Goombas over here to lean on me.” For the first time, Deacon noticed a pistol sitting on top of the bar. Clayton was watching his old friend closely.

“You guessed it, things got and little out of control and…” Clayton didn’t finish his sentence. Instead, poured another drink and wandered over to the curtains and pulled them close.

“Why don’t just go to the police?”

“Ah, come on, you can’t be that naive. There people own the police and good part of city hall. Ten minutes after confessing the crime, I would be found hanging in my cell, or find myself at the wrong end of a jailhouse blade. So, no thank you.”

“If the police can’t help you and all your money can’t buy you a solution, then how can I possible help. I don’t even own a gun,” said Deacon.

“Don’t be ridiculous! It’s Hannibal that I need. He is the only one I know with the muscle to take on this people.”

“Oh, I see. You know that Hannibal wouldn’t cross the street to spit on you and that’s where I come in. Well, you can forget it. You haven’t given a damn about me, Hannibal or any of the old gang until you needed one of us. Now that your ass is in the sling, you want Hannibal to ride to the rescue.

“Same old Stacks,” he said flashing a hardy grin, “willing to use anyone and everyone so long as it benefits you. Well, good luck with this thing,” downing the rest of his drink. And, with that Deacon set down his glass and headed toward the door.

“This is all about Jade isn’t it,” shot Clayton. “It still bothers you that she chose me over you. You weren’t man enough for her and its still eating at you.”

Deacon froze in his tracks, pausing for a second before turning around.

“Okay, you want to talk about Jade, so let’s talk. Yeah, she married you, and what did you do?” Where is she now? Do you even know?” Then Deacon smiled and let loose a chuckle and headed for the door.

On the ride home, Deacon thought about his former friend. He made his bed, let him lay in it, he thought to himself. But, was Clayton right about Jade. Had he let his feeling for her colored his decision? They had been the best of friends. But, he had turned his back on all of them. Soon Deacon tired of the debate and ended it with the resolution that Hannibal would in no way help Clayton. In truth, they had never really gotten along.

But, the visit hand conjured images of a different time, when they were all as close and would sacrifice anything to save one another. As the road stretched out ahead, his mind wondered back to the Sunday that he and Hannibal met.

Chapter Two

Harlem, USA


Donning his Sunday best, Deacon hurried back from the open produce market on 135th Street and Lenox Avenue. He was already late for church and decided to take a shortcut between the row houses. Halfway down the alley, he spotted Todd Jacobs and his small but lethal gang of neighborhood toughs.

Deacon had several run-ins with Todd and none of them turned out in his favor. But, the gang hadn’t stopped him yet. Todd’s voice was unmistakable, the angry growl of a hungry dog. He was way too big for the 9th grade and too stupid for the 6th. But, brains mattered little when it came to grinding some poor kids face in dirt, or fleecing him of the 50 cents given to him by his mother to pick up some potatoes and some collard greens.

But, Deacon was fortunate that Sunday morning, he head Todd’s voice before they spotted him. Though, he couldn’t make out what they were saying, he could tell they had already landed a fish. And, what’s more it sound like they were about to served him up, a Sunday morning fish fry. With Todd and his boys preoccupied, all he had to do was tiptoe pass the alley running perpendicular central passageway and he was home free.

Deacon crept pass the alley. But instead of dashing up the alley, he flattened his body against the wall and crouched down. Peeping around the corner, he could see Todd and three others. He couldn’t quite make out their prey. Then, Todd erupted in rage and drove they boy up against the wall with his forearm. Deacon got his first look at the boy. He was small and nightshade in color.

But, strangely the boy appeared unafraid, even while being pinned against the wall. The undersized boy just stood there, directing a menacing stare back at his enemies. Deacon admired his courage, but points were given out for valor in his neighborhood. Knuckle sandwiches was runts dined on up in Harlem.

Deacon decided that he had to do something, but what. Then, it came to him. He stood up and bolted into the alley, startling the gang and forcing them to turn toward him.

“Where the hell you think you going,” said Todd, stepping in front of Deacon and forcing him to come to an abrupt halt. Deacon was breathing hard and acting like he had seen a ghost.

“You guys better run if you know what’s good for ya,” cried Deacon, attempting to push pass the gang of slightly older boys.”

“What’s all the hubbub, Deacon,” asked Todd, two of the other boys securing their first catch. “Where’s the fire,” fathead, Todd asked,” taking a look inside the bag Deacon was holding.

“There’s a crazy white man chasing me.” Deacon straightened up and began glancing over his shoulder, the whites of his eyes on full display. “He’s a couple buildings back and headed this way.”

“Who is he,” Todd demanded to know, no longer interested in the content of the bag.

“I don’t know, some rich white man, that’s all I know. I think he’s been hitting the bottle. He runs like my pop after he’s had a few. Let me go, I got to get out of here!”

“Slow down before you flip your wig!” said Todd, suddenly interested. “This white man, you said he’s rich?”

“Yeah, sure as shootin’.’”

“How do you know he’s rich?”

“He’s decked out in fine getups and all and has on a bunch of fancy jewelry, that’s how. He dropped his money clip and went to pick it up but he spotted me and came after me. Now move so I can get out of here.”

“You better not be putting our leg, if you knew what’s good for you, Deacon,” said Todd, waving a fist in Deacon’s face.

“Come on, yawl. Let go find this rich white man and see if we can help him out.” With that, the four boys bolted around the corner and down the alley.

“Now that’s how you get rid of a headache,” said Deacon, turning to the small dark boy. “I think we should take a powder before they figure things out and come back looking for us.” Then Deacon and the boy raced out of the narrow alley, onto the street, and up the block. When he was sure that they hadn’t be followed, Deacon pulled up, the both of them struggling to catch their breath.

“I saw you in the block a couple of times,” said Deacon, sucking wind. “You just moved here?” Having caught his breath, he straightened up and answered back.”

“Me name Hannibal Gabriel Bertrand and me from the Island of Barbados. Me sent here to live with me farda,” said the boy in a thick island ascent. The boy’s spoke with quicksilver quickness. Deacon could barely make out what he was saying.

“Good to meet you, Sandoval, but you sure talk funny. My name is Deacon,” he said offering his hand in friendship. “I like the way you stood up to those fools back there.”

“Me want thank ya for helping us,” said the dark-skinned boy with the fiery eyes.

“It was nothing. That Todd is an idiot, but he’s probably discovered that there is no white man by now. We better go. Besides, I’m late. Mamma is going to kill me. I gotta drop off this and then head for Sunday school. After church I have tap dance lessons. I’ll knock on your door when I get home, and you can meet the gang.” With that, the two boys headed up Seventh Avenue, Deacon checking over his shoulder as they went.

Chapter Four

After dance class, Deacon and the gang strolled of Lenox Avenue, dressed in their Sunday best, their tap shoe hung around their necks. Francis, walking backward, was busy teasing Mandy and Jade.

“You know you girls can’t keep yawls eyes off me. But, if you want to make time with Loveboy, you gonna to have to stand in line,” said Francis. Loveboy was on the cubby side and the court jester of the group. He was neatly dress in a brown suit with an oversized fedora. My mom says I favor Chick Webb,” he announced, striking a pose and flashing a wide smile.”

“Well, your mother lied to you,” Jade quipped, rolling her eyes and pushing Francis out of the way. Jade was set apart from the other by her long fancy winter coat with a real fur collar. Her cutting remark drew the laughter of Mandy, who was soon rubbing Francis’ head sympathetically as he seemed stunned by Jade hurtful remark.

“Jade was only messing with you, Francis. You do kinda favor Chick Webb,” said Mandy. Jade bunched her lips and made the sound of steam escaping from a teapot. Mandy sought to hide her light under a bushel while in contrast to Jade who shined her light every chance she got. The two girls walked side by side, but Mandy was almost invisible in the shadow of her best friend.

It wasn’t that Mandy was poorly attired. Her gray coat with large black buttons and her black pattern leather shoes gave her a tidy appearance, almost bookish. Jade was just in a class by herself. Most of the neighborhood girls vanished from view in the presence of her beatific glow.

Her cream colored skin, tall statuette fame, and long wavy hair, made her the envy of many. But, her single most compelling feature was her eyes. Put simply, they were more like matching gemstones with the power to drive boys to crash their bikes.

“Y’all know that Chick Webb and his orchestra are appearing at the Savoy,” said Loveboy. “One day I gonna be bigger than Chick Webb: one day I’m gonna even has my own orchestra. You will see. I gonna be the bees knees, a real cakeeater.”

“Ah, shut you pie hole. All you ever talk about is girls and music,” said Clayton. “I hope that you don’t think you gonna tap dance your way to the Savoy because you sure as hell can’t tap dance. Boy, you got two left feet.”

Greg, the largest of the group, his pants after being let out twice were still too short for his legs, laughed until he was going to burst. “Yeah, anybody can see that,” cosigned Greg who they all renamed Mooch because he was always begging for something to eat.

“I don’t know what you’re poppin’ your gums about,” Jade broke in, “Stacks, you look like you’re on ice skates when you dance. You’re no Bill Robinson yourself. And, what’s more, Deacon is a real fathead. He’s gonna be a writer one day and I a famous hoofer, and club singer, maybe even featured at the Cotton Club. Why, even Loveboy here can tickle the spare ribs (play the piano).”

“Shows how much you know. I’m only hoofin’ because i beats taking piano lessons,” said Clayton. “Besides, one day I’m going to be the richest man in Harlem, maybe the richest man in Big Apple, maybe even the world,” he added as though it were common knowledge.

Yeah, he’s going to be the richest man in the world and I’m going to be the second richest,” affirmed Mooch.

“And, how are you going to do that tossing stacks of newspaper off the back of a trucks,” asked Jade, skeptically

“Stacks of papers today; tomorrow stakes of hundred dollar bills. You should know that you and Clayton aren’t the only ones around here with big dreams. One day I’m going to own my own building like dem Jew landlords, then I’ll come around the first Friday of every month in my big shinny car and collect the rents from all the po’ folks

Jade just flipped her dangling curls and looked elsewhere, as if she couldn’t be bothered with the messy details of Clayton’s aspirations.

“Yeah, Jade, we gonna own our own building one day, right Clayton,” his huge mitts coming to rest on his best friend’s shoulder.

“Ah, clam up Mooch,” said Clayton, brushing away Mooch’s hand from his shoulder. A little ruffled, Clayton turned to Deacon, catching Deacon off guard.

“Heard that you had a run-in with Todd this morning; heard that he’s looking for you, Deacon,” announced Clayton, changing the subject. All eyes turned to Deacon who was busy adjusting his bowtie.

“I just helped some poor twist knee deep in it in, that’s all. And how did you hear about it, Clayton, it only happened just this morning?”

“There’s nothing buzzin’ round here that I don’t hear about,” said Clayton. What possessed you to stand up for some dump monkey chaser anyway?”

“I have to agree with Clayton as much as it hurts me,” said Jade, scrunching her face up as though she just caught a whiff of a dead cat. “You got to look out for number one these days,” Jade said, trying to sound grown-up.

“She’s right, you got to watch your own ass,” Clayton cut in. “You know Todd cut that fool that lives up on 145th and 8th Avenue for refusing to folk over a Indian head nickel. The fool had to be stitched up over at Harlem Hospital. Best stay clear of him and his boys until I can square things with him,” advised Clayton.

“Yeah, Deacon, you best stay clear until we can smooth things,” echoed Pop, his voice several octaves lower that Clayton’s.

“Clam up, Mooch,” commanded Clayton before giving Deacon a playful wink.

The group continued up Seventh Avenue, passing promenading Negroes draped down in Harlem’s latest fashions. There were even whites peering from passing cars like they had never seen such finely dressed people in their lives. When they reached the corner, the group split into two.

The boys crossed the street at 137th while Mandy and Jade continued on for another block to Striver’s Row, the most prestigious two blocks in Harlem with the exception of Sugar Hill. Deacon had just set one foot in the street when Mandy called to him. He stepped back on to the sidewalk upon her approached.

“You will be careful, won’t you, Deacon,” she said. “Clayton is right. That Todd is no one to be trifled with. But, what you did was noble and I just wanted you to know that.” Before she could continue, Jade yelled to her to come on.

“Mandy are you coming, girl, gawd?” was all she said before turning and heading up the street. With that, Mandy turned and raced to catch up with Jade.

“Hi, young scholar,” Deacon heard an all too familiar voice say. It was Pop, the old blind man who owned the corner paper stand, and who book numbers on the side and gave spit shines. “Now there’s a real beauty, that girl. And, I think that she has her eye set on making you her bow.”

“Hi, Pop. Yeah, she a real prime looker, but every guy in the neighborhood has got his eyes set on her. She won’t give me a second look. Jade and I are just good friends that’s hall.”

“And, they said I the blind one. I wasn’t talking about Jade. So, did you finish reading Langston Hughes, young buck?”

“Yes, Pop, I couldn’t stop reading it. I loved the way he described Harlem, and the way he describe the people in his stories. Sometimes it seems like he’s writing about me. I going to be a writer one day, maybe even meet him. Anyway, I’m late, got to skedaddle. I’ll bring the magazine back tomorrow. See ya, Pop.”

“When you return Langston, I have someone I want to introduce you to, Miss. Nora Neal Hurston. Watch them cars, boy!”

Chapter Five

Home to Deacon was 555 between 7th and Lenox, a row house identical to all the other houses lining both sides of the street. His buddies Mooch and Clayton lived down at the end of the block. After bolting up the front steps, ones that he’d counted a thousand times.

When he walked through the door, he was greeted by the heavenly aroma of a Sunday feast. Fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread filled the modest domicile making his mouth water.

“Deacon is that you,” his mother called out from the kitchen. “How was dance class?”

“Class was okay, although I don’t know why I have to go. I don’t even like tap dancing,” Deacon argued after storing away his coat and hat in the hallway closet. Deacon knew that tappin’ had been a childhood passion of his mother until she was stricken with a mild case of polio. Some days the potentially crippling virus still haunted her steps. As the years passed, Deacon began notice it in her limp and in the increasing slowness with which she moved.

That passion for dancing was something his mother had in common with the girl of his dreams, Jade. She too had been bitten by the dance bug. But while his mother just loved to dance for dancing sake, Jade wanted to be a star. Jade was the best dancer in the class and never let anybody forget it. Although Mandy wasn’t far behind, she was modest and shied away from praise from their teacher, Miss Rose.

He hadn’t the heart to tell her that he wasn’t any good at it. It was the reason he pretended to be bashful when she asked him to show her what he learned.

“Boy, you going to grow up with some culture,” even if it kills you. You not just going hang out with those pals of yours. And, while I am proud of you grades, there are other things that books can’t teach you. Now I don’t want to hear another word about you quitting. Besides, I’m still angry with you for being late for Sunday school.”

“I’m sorry, Ma,” he said, cozying up to her and planting a kiss on her cheek as she stirred the gravy.

“Well, go wash your dirty face and hands while I set the table. And, don’t forget those fingernails. And, take off your good clothes. ”

“We not gonna wait for daddy before we eat?”

“You know that you father drives the cab on Sundays to bring home extra money. And, he’s lucky to get the cab with so many black people looking for work. God knows what going to happen to us, during this here de-pression. President Roosevelt the other day on that Fireside Chat that things was getting better. He is a good man, him and Miss Eleanor, but not even he can’t change the minds of some in this country.”

They always ate supper early on Sundays. So after supper he had time on his hands before the others were back downstairs. In his room, Deacon thought about the run-in with Todd. And, for the first time, he thought about what would happen if Todd caught up with him before Clayton had time to calm him down. Clayton was a born negotiator and was scare of anyone. He didn’t have to be.

Clayton was the most popular kid at school and could throw down with the best of them. In addition, he had two older brothers who had made a name for themselves on the hardwood. They even had Negro colleges offering them a place on their basket ball teams.

Clayton had been his best friend since they were in second grade, and had never let him down. So, the thought of having to face Todd and his gang passed from his thoughts. He lay across his bed dreaming of becoming a famous writer. Everyone of the gang had something going for him, he thought.

Francis or Loveboy as he like to refer to himself had real talent. Oh, he wasn’t much on the dance floor; but he could make a piano sing like a bird. Kind of round and overweight, the girls in school found him cute and cuddly like a teddy bear. They were drawn to him. So, it didn’t matter to him what anyone else thought, except maybe Jade.

Even Mooch had a destiny. He was attached to Clayton had the hip. Clayton lead and he followed. Furthermore, no one messed with Mooch as he was big for his age, even if he hadn’t been held over in school for the past two years.

Deacon grabbed a copy of Crisis Magazine and turned to a publication of poems and short stories by Countee Cullen. He drifted off and was soon awaken by the call of his mother’s voice. He began to drift off again, when he heard his friend’s voice. Deacon gazed over at the window and viewed the sliver of light framing the synched curtains.

“Get up, you slacker. I see you been reading that New Negro stuff again,” Clayton said, clearing magazine off his friend. Deacon sat up, trying to clear the cobwebs.

“We got to get going, their waiting on us.”

“What are you talking about, Clayton? You said that you’d settle things.

“I told you that I was going to settle things and I did,” said Clayton, beginning to pace the room, picking up a tiny black toy soldier and joggling in between his palms. “I tried to talk the lug head out of pounding you into pavement, but he wouldn’t budge.

“So, what are you saying,” Deacon asked, shooting to his feet, his voice filled with deep concern.

“He doesn’t’ like you, Deac,” said Clayton, raising his arms, palms up.

“So, what now?”

“He said you’re always giving him the high hat. Those were his words. He said you wouldn’t do his homework for him or pass him answers when you and he were in grade school. You cross the street to avoid him, and now this” Now, Deacon started to pace the room, his mental wheels turning.

“I am just going to have to avoid him until maybe he loses interest. None of them go to school, so maybe I can pull it off.

“Or, you can fight,” Clayton offered.

“You mean fight Todd?”

“Are you wacky: he’ll kill you? I wouldn’t even want to fight him unless I had too. No I made deal with Todd. You’ll fight Spike. You two are about the same size and no one is going to butt in.” There was a brief silence as Deacon tried to picture his foe-to-be.

“Oh, no, that kid is as wacky as Todd, and didn’t he just get back from reform school?”

“Yeah, but that was for setting fire to his apartment. He’s a fire bug.” Clayton could see the fret on his friend’s face. “Didn’t you box Nathan’s ears back, when he tried to take one of your journals? Didn’t you punch out Eli back in three grades when he called you a girl? And don’t forget, you’ve got me in your corner. I’ll show you a few of my moves, and it would be a walk in the park.”

“W.E.B. du Bois said we must be the bigger man, to assume the moral high ground when our enemies relinquish the foothills of reasonable righteous behavior for the iniquitous basin of immorality and aggression,” quoted Deacon. “And, Marcus Garvey said that we Africans must learn to shed our petty differences if we are to evolve as a race and claim our rightful place at the table of world leadership.”

“Well that African plans to kick your butt, and neither du Bois nor Garvey is going to save your African ass, responded Clayton with a chuckle. “And neither will anything in them books and magazines you keep your head buried in,” argued Clayton pointing to the volumes crowding Deacon’s dresser, desk and nightstands. It time to put the books away, professor, and put on the gloves.”

“So, when are we supposed to fight?”

“Right now, so shake a leg. They’re waiting for us at the park. Loveboy and Mooch are downstairs. Thought I’d come and get you alone so your parent’s wouldn’t be any the wiser.”

As they exited the room, Deacon asked his mother’s permission to go out for a little while. He prayed that she had something for him to do, and remanded him to the house. Be she joyfully gave her permission.

“Ok, baby, just don’t stray far from the house and start home when the lamplights turn on.”

Stopping at the top of the steps, Deacon gazed up and down the block and found it almost empty. The sun was still visible as hazy outline in the far sky and the wind had grown cold and crisp. He could feel his heart beating in his chest and butterfly churned in his chest. Descending to the sidewalk, he was greeted enthusiastically by Mooch and Loveboy.

“Just go up to that little rat, Spike, and knock him on his butt,” said Mooch, as if it was as easy as falling off a rocker.

“That’s easy for you to said, Mooch, you’re a big as an ox,” Deacon replied.

“You’re not scare are you, Deacon,” asked Mooch, bending slightly to see into Deacon’s eyes, partly hidden by his cap.

“Heck no, what do you think I am, a coward? I going to whip it to the red,” boosted Deacon trying to erase his own growing doubts.

“That’s the spirit, Deac,” said Loveboy, slapping his friend on the back. “Don’t worry we’ll right behind you in case they try some funny stuff.” Loveboy was about to continue when he was interrupted by a voice from across the street. It was the boy that he had saved that morning. He was sitting on the top step of the building directly across from them. Slowing he rose to his feet and crossed over to them.

“And, what you want,” asked Clayton, standing a foot taller than the boy. “I heard your friends talking from my window,” he said, pointing to Mooch and Loveboy. “Nobody fights me battles for me. I will fight anybody. Me not afraid, me fight those much bigger than you.”

It’s I’m not afraid, you immigrant,” said Clayton, correcting the boy’s English. “Learn to speak the language, you monkey chaser.” The boy looked at Clayton with steely eyes and growled something under his breath, words that none of them could make out. But, Clayton got the message.

“We got this under control, little man, so why don’t you beat it back across the street before you get hurt.”

“And, who gonna do the hurtin’, you? Take you on right now, I will.” With that the boy raised his fist and crouched into his fighting stance, prompting Clayton and Mooch to do the same.”

“Big words for such a small boy,” remarked Clayton.

“Let, me handle this runt, Clayton,” begged Mooch. “It will only take a hot second to squash this cockroach.” But, Deacon came between them before fist started to fly.

“Hold it, you two. I thought I am supposed to be the one fighting today. Now, Clayton here is right. Maybe you should go home.”

“By helping me, you now have to fight. It is my fight, not you.” Mooch, Clayton and even Loveboy started to laugh, sizing up the small boy.

“I appreciate you wanting to fight, but it is my fight.”

“Well, then me comin’ along too. Me will stand beside you.”

“Wow,” said Clayton. “The runt is coming along. I feel safer already.” The group burst out into laughter. Even Deacon saw the humor in Clayton words. The boy growled some more strange words, but remained unmoved.

“Okay, bring the runt along, but if anything happens to him, it’s his funeral. What’s the runt’s name anyway,” asked Clayton turning to Deacon.

“Me name Hannibal. Me named after the great African warrior and general.”

“Hannibal the Cannibal,” yelled Mooch enlisting more laughter.

“Come on; let’s get goin’ before they think we’re not going to show,” ordered Clayton, starting down the street with Mooch on his heels.

“I forgot to ask you where this is going to take place,” Deacon asked, now coming up beside Clayton.

“The fight is set for Colonial Park, up on 145 Street and Bradhurst Avenue.” Deacon came to a dead stop.

“That’s Todd’s territory. You know we never cross 145th Street. He’ll have half the neighborhood with him. Why couldn’t you have picked St. Nicholas Park, as least we would be close to home? You can just count me out.”

“Look, Deac,” said Clayton putting both hand on his friend’s shoulders. “It was the only way I could get them to agree to a fair fight, without knifes, bats, or pipes. We’ve been to the Colonial Park plenty of times.

“But, that was when they challenged our neighborhood to a baseball game. And, the game was refereed by grownups.”

“Well then, look at it this way, same park different game.” And with that, Clayton turned and marched up the street. The others had to nearly run to catch up.

Reaching Seventh Avenue, Deacon spotted a small crowd of boys mulling around Pop’s Newsstand. He didn’t have to ask what they were they were there for, he knew.

The group of boys crossed the six lane avenue and joined with the boys standing around Pop’s newsstand. Deacon did a quick head count and found that there were seven in all. Most of them were a couple of years older including Arthur Wirmingham, Little Danny Red, Tall Pete and David Blue.

The others he faintly recognized, but he was glad to see that they weren’t heading into the lion’s den alone. Deacon was especially glad to see Blue, because he had a big reputation in the neighbor and was known for being a fierce brawler. Even with an even dozen supporters, Deacon still wasn’t entirely convinced that he would be coming back alive.