- SJF – Chapter 1
- SJF – Chapter 2
- SJF – Chapter 3
- SJF – Chapter 4
- SJF – Chapter 5
- SJF – Chapter 6
- SJF – Chapter 7
- SJF – Chapter 8
- SJF – Chapter 9
- SJF – Chapter 10
- SJF – Chapter 11
- SJF – Chapter 12
- SJF – Chapter 13
- SJF – Chapter 14
- SJF – Chapter 15
- SJF – Chapter 16
- SJF – Chapter 17
- SJF – Chapter 18
- SJF – Chapter 19
- SJF – Chapter 20
- SJF – Chapter 21
- SJF – Chapter 22
- SJF – Chapter 23
- SJF – Chapter 24
- SJF – Chapter 25
Until his arrest, Darius lived at Sloane House, a run-down building on the west side of the city. Originally built as a hotel in the 1920s, it had since fallen on hard times, eventually coming to be used for “transitional housing.” For Darius that meant living in a fifteen-story building with only one working elevator, populated by a variety of odd characters ranging from psychiatric outpatients to ex-cons on parole to people who weren’t exactly homeless but still had no place to really call home.
After he was released from juvenile detention, his caseworker couldn’t place Darius in another foster home. He was too old and had a history of violence. Somehow, Edith got him a room at Sloane House. On the one hand he appreciated all she did for him—it was, after all, a roof over his head. But on the other hand it was a terrible place to live. He occupied a single room on the ninth floor so small he could stand in the middle of the room, stretch his arms out, and touch the walls on either side. The two bathrooms down the hall—one for men and one for women—both had roaches and rats scurrying around.
Darius lived at Sloane House for two months before meeting Karlito, who lived on the third floor. Darius would see him from time to time, either in the lobby, or passing each other in the stairway. One day Karlito asked Darius for money to buy cigarettes. When Darius told him he didn’t have any money, Karlito told him that he knew a way to make some cash. Things fell apart from there.
Butchie followed Darius into the lobby of Sloane House. Decades earlier, when it was the lobby of a hotel, it might have been a nice place. But any trace of that was long gone, obscured by the stink of urine and so many layers of filth that only a wrecking ball could effectively clean the place. A sign on the only working elevator indicated that it, like the other two, was “out of order.”
“You feel like walking up nine flights of stairs?” Darius asked Butchie.
“I’ll wait for ya down here.”
Darius hoofed it up the stairs as quickly as he could. He hated Sloane House, and wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. He also didn’t want to run into Karlito, who no doubt had been looking for him ever since the night Darius took off running with all the eXXeLL in his backpack. Karlito claimed to know Tiny Biggs, and had even implied that he was peddling the eXXeLL for the notorious crime lord.
By the time he got to the ninth floor, Darius was winded. Climbing nine flights of stairs was too much like running, which he hated. He made his way down the hall, past the bathroom filled with roaches and rats, and came to a stop in front of his tiny room in the far northeastern corner of the building. The door was open. Pried open. Probably with a crowbar.
Someone had gone in his room and stolen everything he had—not that he had much. And Darius knew exactly who had stolen his few belongings—Karlito. No one else would break into my room and steal worthless junk like mine.
Darius raced out of the room, down the hall, and ran down the stairs much faster than he ran up them. A million thoughts ran through his head as he tried to come up with a plan to find the photos of his family—the only things that mattered to him.
I need to explain this to Butchie. What if he doesn’t understand about the pictures? I could try to sneak past him. How long will it take for Butchie to call someone if I take off? How long before they track me down and send my ass to prison?
Darius made it to the landing of the first floor, pushing open the door leading into the back corner of the lobby. Karlito stood in front of the door, waiting for him. Darius screeched to a halt, his breathing labored, his blood boiling.
“Lookin’ for this?” asked Karlito.
Karlito held a pillowcase—the pillowcase from Darius’s room—no doubt stuffed with everything he had stolen. Bay-Bay stood a few feet behind Karlito, trying to look menacing.
Where’s the stupid one, Mickey? Darius thought. Did he get busted, or is he hiding, waiting to jump me?
Darius knew the deal. Karlito wanted the Adrenaccelerate. Darius didn’t have it.
“Made a few calls down to the po’leese station, ’cause that’s the kinda dude I am, always lookin’ out for a brotha,” said Karlito. His fake sincerity made Darius angrier. “They got papers filed on Mickey, but they ain’t got no record of you bein’ booked. Figure you musta got away, jus’ like me an’ Bay-Bay.”
Darius didn’t say a word. He kept his eyes directly on Karlito, but he could still see Butchie on the other side of the lobby. Any chance of the situation ending well—without someone getting their ass kicked—depended on Butchie.
“You got my stuff, nigga?” demanded Karlito. He dropped the pillowcase to the dirty floor of the lobby, a sure sign he was going to make a move.
Darius knew he could take Karlito in a fight. He wasn’t so sure about Bay-Bay—Karlito’s back-up plan in case he had trouble with Darius. Bay-Bay was a monster. And Darius had to get through Karlito first.
How far will things go before Butchie makes a move to break it up? Darius thought to himself.
The answer came when Karlito slammed his right fist into the left side of Darius’s jaw, knocking him to the floor. Darius saw the punch coming from a mile away and simply rolled with it. In fact, he didn’t even feel the right hook, his jaw and mouth were still completely numb from the novocaine.
Karlito mistakenly thought his punch had really done some damage. “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout, beeyotch,” he said.
Basking in the glow of his perceived triumph, Karlito never saw Darius land on the floor. Rather than dropping to the floor in an unconscious lump, Darius hit the floor, spun himself around, and caught Karlito with a sweeping kick, knocking his legs out from under him.
Karlito crashed to the floor, flat on his back. Darius scurried around and pounced on top of Karlito. Darius delivered three powerful jabs to Karlito’s face with such speed and force Karlito didn’t know what hit him. Bam! Bam! Bam!
With a fourth punch came a cracking sound of either bone or cartilage, followed by an explosion of blood. Karlito’s face looked like raw hamburger, blood flowing from his nose and mouth.
Before Darius could get in one more punch—just for good measure—Bay-Bay tackled him.
Bay-Bay knocked Darius off Karlito, and tried to get him in some sort of hold he must have learned from watching professional wrestling. But for a guy his size, Bay-Bay wasn’t all that strong. Darius had learned from being bullied by guys twice his size that being big didn’t always go hand in hand with being strong.
Bay-Bay struggled to keep Darius in a chokehold that may have looked impressive on live pay-per-view wrestling matches, but was completely useless in the real world. Darius grabbed hold of one of Bay-Bay’s wrists with his right hand, and brought his left hand down like a hammer, smashing Bay-Bay below the belt.
“If you’re fighting for your life, there’s no such thing as fighting dirty,” Darius’s father used to say.
Bay-Bay let out a high-pitched scream and loosened his chokehold. Still holding on to Bay-Bay’s wrist, Darius spun around and got back up on his feet. Pure, blind anger kept Darius from letting go of Bay-Bay’s wrist. He knew that Karlito would have likely killed him for the drugs, and Bay-Bay would have helped. At least that’s what he told himself as he twisted Bay-Bay’s arm until the shoulder dislocated. Bay-Bay screamed even louder.
Bay-Bay lay on the floor of the lobby of Sloane House screaming in agony. Next to him, Karlito cried like a baby, blood flowing from his face. Darius picked up the pillowcase and checked to make sure his pictures and the other things that constituted the worldly possessions were inside.
Butchie stood at the far end of the lobby near the main entrance. He had not moved once during the fight.
Darius walked over to the Butchie. “That all your stuff?” Butchie asked.
The two of them left Sloane House without saying a word, and got into the car. They sat in silence for a few minutes while Darius’s mind raced. If Butchie reports what happened, I’ll be in so much trouble. It’ll be over for me—no Second Chance.
Darius looked at his hand, already starting to swell. He clenched and unclenched his fist, wondering if anyone would notice.
“We should get you some ice. It’ll keep the swellin’ down,” said Butchie.