Chapter 1

At two o'clock on the last morning of his life, Darius LeClerc parked the old, battle-scarred Plymouth Duster in the first available spot along the curb, under a dead street light, and hustled the two and a half blocks to the housing project.

The night was mild by the standards of a Midwestern winter; still, Darius's breath preceded him in pale clouds as he moved along the broken and littered sidewalk. At least Omaha hadn't had too much snow that winter, and it hadn't been all that horribly cold -- nothing like the winters back in Detroit. The thought of those winters made Darius hunch his shoulders inside his jacket and cram his fists deeper into the side pockets. Damn but those Detroit winters were cold sons-of-bitches.

Darius LeClerc was nineteen years old, a slender, almost skinny young black man, nearly six feet tall. He was dressed in dark colors: Black fake-leather bombardier-style jacket, gray acid-washed denims, black Puma high-tops. Under the jacket he wore a black T-Shirt and a gray hooded sweatshirt, hood down. As his long limbs propelled him quickly along the sidewalk, Darius pulled his left hand out of its pocket and checked the cheap "sport watch" strapped to his wrist. He had bought it for $14.95 at the K mart on West Center Road. It was mostly plastic, but it worked well enough, he guessed, though at the moment it would have been nice if it had a luminous dial. Still, there was just enough light for him to see that he was late.

He stepped up the pace, half-jogging toward the street light, the working street light at the corner, near the eastern entrance to the project.

He stopped there, puffing white clouds into the cold night air, scoping out the territory. No signs of life. Was he that late? He moved to check his watch again. It'd be easier to see under the street light.

He probably never realized that he would be easier to see, too.

A car engine grumbled awake up the block, back in the direction from which Darius had just come. He turned automatically toward the sound. It was a big car, a Caddie or a Lincoln, maybe, pulling away from the grimy curb across the street, coming down the block, toward the pale illumination at the corner. Its headlights were doused.

Darius LeClerc's first thought was that some damn fool was going to get killed. His second thought, when he saw that the car was veering toward his side of the street, when he saw that the windows were rolled down in defiance of the chilly February night, when he saw that gun barrels were resting on the window frames, was that the damn fool was him.

Copyright © 1995 by William J. Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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