“Stop it! Stop it, man! Stop hitting my little brother!”
Eight. That’s how many times Uncle Lou punched Reggie. The younger brother’s face was meat by the time he finished. One eye was completely swollen shut, his other one may as well have been, his nose was broken, his lips were fat and split and the blood … his face and clothes and the wall and the floor were covered in it.
And my stomach danced the dance of Earl and Ralph, but nothing came up.
I looked at Dequan. He looked from me to Lou and Reggie, his head moving back and forth as if he were at a tennis match.
“Why are you doing this, man?”
I wanted to laugh but held back. “Because we can. Isn’t that what you said when I asked you why you hurt people? Because I can?”
Ahh … the defiance surfaced on his face again, but only briefly. “I’m sorry, dog,” he said, trying to sound apologetic. “I shouldn’t have said that. Just stop, man.”
“Sorry isn’t good enough, DOG. And if you want us to stop, well, you’re just going to have to hurt someone else. You know, since you can.”
“What? Who? You made your point, man. I get it. I hurt people, so you hurt me and …”
“No, that’s not the point, man. That’s not the point, dog. That’s not the point at all. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t do well with hurting people.” I looked at my uncle. I could see that twinkle in his eyes and Johnny was there again telling me to drown the kitten, drown him and you’re in. He wanted to hit Reggie again. Part of me felt the horrible head of revolt surface, but then it faded as fast as it arrived. I pointed at him and spoke, “That guy, though. He likes hurting people.”
With that said, he punched Reggie again, this time in the side of the head. Reggie’s head jerked to the side violently, striking the wall. Blood seeped from his ear and his head sagged to his chest.
“Stop, man! Just stop, man!”
My stomach clenched, but it wasn’t a feeling of nausea, but a legitimate pain that felt like something gnawing at my insides. I turned away from Dequan and grimaced. I wasn’t sure I would be able to go through with this. Just watching Lou use Reggie as a punching bag made me sick. But there was something else there, something that pushed the sick feeling aside and kept me on track to finish the deed. It was excitement. I could feel it in my chest, in the way it made the muscles on my face twitch into a sadistic smile, the way it made me feel cold inside. Is this how it is for people who commit crimes of murder and rape and muggings and stealing and who knew what else? Is this what ‘because I can’ feels like? It scared me but exhilarated me as well.
“He’s out cold,” Lou said and shook his fist. There was blood on it.
“Please, man. Whatever you want me to do … I’ll do it, man. Just stop. Please, just stop.”
“Anything, man. Anything. Just stop hurting him.”
“Your brother … you love him, Dequan?”
He nodded, but I could see he didn’t want to actually say it. Yeah, keep that tough guy persona. That’s not what I wanted right then. I needed him to do one thing, one more act of violence, just because he could. But I needed to break him a little more.
“Is that the best you can do? A nod? That’s your brother. If it were my brother, I could say I love him. You can’t say that, can’t you?”
“I can say it.”
“Okay, let’s hear it. Do you love your brother?”
Again, I could see the thug in him wanted to come out, wanted to reach out and punch me as hard as Lou punched his brother. This is a man who was raised to be tough. Big boys don’t cry and all that crap. Then his face softened just a little. “Yeah, I love my brother, man.”
“Good. Because if you love him like I think you do, then you have the opportunity to save his life.”
“What? How?” His eyes grew wide. I had him. I knew it and so did he.
That pain in my stomach subsided. Deep down it was still there, but not so bad. No nausea, and that gnawing pain was fading.
“Uncle Lou, do you have that picture I asked you to get?”
“Yeah. Let me go get it.”
Lou went up the steps, his boots thudding heavy with each one he took. The door opened and closed and for several minutes it was just me and Dequan.
“Man, please, man. Just let us go.”
“Dequan, do you remember a couple days ago when I said you had no problems killing someone? Remember that? You said that, right?”
“I was bluffing, man. I ain’t never killed anyone.”
“You’re wrong, Dequan. You killed someone.”
“You’re lying, white boy.”
I went upstairs. I was only gone long enough to go to my bedroom and reach into the top drawer of my desk where a newspaper sat, a constant reminder of just who Dequan had killed. I saw Lou near the back door having a smoke. That was okay with me. It gave me a little more time to talk to Dequan. Back into the basement I went and sat back in my chair. I unfolded the newsprint, then opened it up to a story on the third page, one about an old man who had died after spending three days in the hospital.
He slapped the old man. That’s what Dequan did to my grandpa. After he punched him and after Grandpa had hit his head, not once, but twice, that punk slapped my grandpa across the face.
That’s when I threw up again.
Officer Sam stopped the tape. I wiped my mouth and motioned for him to keep going. That’s when good old Dequan reached into Grandpa’s pant pocket and pulled out his wallet. There wasn’t much money in it, but he took what there was and threw the wallet across the street.
Then he slapped Grandpa again. Then he punched Grandpa square in the face. I threw up again. After that I left the police department and Officer Sam.
Let me say this about the police in my town. Other than good old Officer Sam, they suck. There was enough evidence on that video to arrest at least two of the men involved, including Dequan Jackson, the one who had completed the Knock Out Game the way it was intended: knock out the victim with one punch. But he didn’t just win at the game, he then stole the money out of my grandpa’s wallet, then hit him in the face again. They had the evidence. Any of those blows could have been the one that put Grandpa in a coma. Any of them.
Then there’s the matter of the wallet and the fingerprints that they could have lifted off it. It’s not like Dequan didn’t have a few arrests under his belt, one of which had him on probation already.
Guess what? They did nothing. Nothing.
The image on page three of the newspaper was of an old man with a smile on his face and a VFW hat on his head. There were enough wrinkles around his nose and mouth to give him a bulldog look. The collar of his button-down shirt could be seen. The picture had been taken three weeks prior to his death. I provided it to the paper when I thought that both them and the police were going to do something about the crime that claimed Grandpa’s life after three days in a coma.
Daquan stared at it.
“Who’s that?” he asked.
“My father,” Uncle Lou said.
I spun around to look at him. I didn’t hear him open the door or come down the steps in his heavy boots.
“The man you killed when you decided to play that game you thugs play. What’s it called again?”
“The Knock Out Game,” I said.
“Yeah. That’s it. The Knock Out Game.”
“I ain’t never seen that man.”
I didn’t have enough time to react before Lou lashed out, smacking Dequan so hard one of his teeth came out and landed on the floor a couple feet away.
“You lying sack of crap,” Lou said. “I’ve seen the video. I saw you hit him, then take his money, then hit him again while he was out cold on the sidewalk. You did that and guess what? You’re going to do it again.”
“What? What’s he talking about?”
“You’re going to—“
“Stop,” I said. I stood in front of Lou, my hands out, palms up. “Please, stop for just a minute. If he doesn’t do what we want him to, you can do whatever you want to him. But let me do this. Okay?”
Lou nodded reluctantly. His hands went to his hips and he glared at Dequan.
“Do you have the picture?”
Another nod and he reached into his shirt pocket, then handed it over.
I looked at it for a minute. She was an older woman, her hair streaked with white. She wore a yellow housedress and a pair of white canvass shoes. A pair of glasses were perched on the bridge of her nose. She was smiling. Beside her was a young man, one that may have been seventeen or eighteen at the time it was taken.
I flipped it over and held it between two fingers and my thumb. Turning it to Dequan, I showed it to him.
“Recognize this woman?”