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get a small package in return. As soon as he started to walk away, another would come up from the waiting group to take his place. Remo wondered if the pusher gave them numbers, as in a bakery, and they had to wait for their number to be called before they could come up to buy their drugs.

Remo looked at three benches before he found one that wasn't broken, then sat down and watched the pusher. He saw the folding money flash white under the overhead light, and he saw the glitter of the little bags the pusher handed out, after first inspecting the money and stuffing it into his pocket. He wondered where the police were, and he was glad that Sister Mary Margaret had not lived to see this happen in their park. Something began to bubble deep down inside Remo, and at first he thought it was anger, but then he realized it was deeper than anger. It was sorrow. He had, thought to get away from the sick world in which he made his living and return to this city and the innocent days of his youth. But the sick world had invaded here, too, and he wondered, just for a fleeting moment, if there were anyplace left in America that was clean, any parks where children still played and didn't have to worry about junkies or winos or pushers.

The pusher saw Remo watching him. He showed no fear, only curiosity, and Remo thought if it had happened years before, when the pusher still had his own teeth and Remo was still a Newark policeman, then the man would have felt fear.

Remo wondered how long he would be able to sustain sorrow before it turned into a compulsion to do something about the cause of that sorrow.

He watched the pusher call the small pack of waiting youths over to him. They were conferring;


the pusher was pointing at Remo, and the sorrow went, replaced by a cold, bitter anger. Remo got up from the park bench.

"All right," he said aloud. "Everybody out."

Eight faces turned toward him in surprise.

"You heard me. Everybody out of my park," Remo said. He walked toward the group. They looked at the slim white man, then at each other, exchanging winks and grins.

"Yoah park?" the pusher asked.

"Yeah. My park. Clear out," Remo said.

'This be the people's park," the pusher said. Remo was closer to him now, and the pusher slid back until he was separated from Remo by a wall of young men.

The wall wasn't thick enough. Remo's hand reached in between the youths, grabbed the pusher by the gold chains around his neck and yanked. He flew toward Remo like a ball flying out of a pin-ball machine chute.

"Hey, don't do that. He be our main man."

"Yeah," grumbled another voice.

But before they could charge Remo, he had the pusher upside down, holding him by his ankles, shaking him. Nickel bags of powder and packages of grass fell from his pockets. Remo shook harder. Money, bills and coins dropped out onto the ground. Every time Remo shook, the pusher's head hit the pavement and he groaned.

"Help me," he moaned. "Free iffen you helps."

"Shut up, you," Remo said. "It's free anyhow." He kicked with his toes at the drugs and money and skittered them across toward the seven young


"There. Take what you want. Just get out of my


park." He kept shaking the pusher, and more drugs and money fell. Remo kept kicking them toward the group. They seemed to confer with themselves silently, then together, they made a lunge for the drugs and the cash. Within fifteen seconds, the ground was clear again, and the last of their footsteps could be heard vanishing into the night. "I get them for that," the pusher said. "It's terrible to realize you're all alone," Remo said, "isn't it?"

"Who are you?" the pusher demanded. "What you want? Stop hitting my head."

Remo turned the pusher right side up. He was as tall as Remo but even thinner.

"Just another student of Sister Mary Margaret,"" Remo said. "She doesn't like what you're doing to her park."

The pusher was busy straightening his clothing. "I told you, this the people's park." The pusher rubbed his head with his left hand. His right hand reached inside the rear waistband of his trousers and came out with a switchblade knife, which he clicked open and pointed toward Remo. In the overhead light it was brittle and glassy looking.

Remo shook his head. "Too bad," he said. "And I was going to let you go."

"You let shit," the pusher said. "You cost me and I taking it back, sucker. Slice by slice."

He waved the knife at Remo's throat. Remo leaned back. The knife passed harmlessly in front of his face. Then Remo had the pusher, upside down again, dragging him across the pavement toward the park bench. He lifted him up, then dropped him head first into a litter basket. The pusher's head hit with a glassy clunk against the


bottles that filled the basket. The pusher didn't fit. Remo pressed down until he did. The cracking of bottles was the only sound after one strong initial groan. Finally, he fit. Only his shoes stuck out of the basket. They were ugly yellow shoes with soles and heels two inches high. Remo bent the man's legs until the shoes fit into the basket, then gave one last push down for good measure. Everything fit now. He wiped his hands over a job well done and went back to sit on the bench.

Ten minutes later, he heard footsteps approaching him. They were loud, heavy footsteps, meant to be loud and heavy. To Remo that spelled cop. Young cop.

Remo looked down at the pavement when the policeman spoke. "What are you doing here, mister?" There was a frightened quaver in his voice.

"Just sitting in my park," Remo said.

"Your park?"

"Yeah. Mine and Sister Mary Margaret's," Remo said.

The patrolman relaxed a little, as if deciding that Remo was a harmless nut case.

"You going to keep sitting there?" he asked Remo after a pause.


"This park is dangerous for a white man," the cop said.

For the first time, Remo looked up from his feet and his eyes met the patrolman's eyes.

"Not tonight," he said. "Not tonight."

Ruby had smelled it before she heard it or saw it. She snapped up into a sitting position in bed. She took a deep breath. There was no mistaking

it; it was a smell that she had lived with since childhood.


Ruby jumped out of bed and shook her sixteen-year-old cousin awake.

"Lenora, wake up. The place is on fire."

The teenagers was groggy, slow to respond, and Ruby slapped her hard across the cheek.

The girl woke, shaking her head, her hands going involuntarily to her cheek.

She looked at Ruby, who was already moving toward the door. "The place is on fire," Ruby called over her shoulder. "We've got to wake everybody up."

Working together, the two roused the Jacksons. Almost as if it were a fire drill, the children moved toward the doorway leading to the stairs, each one of the older children taking responsibility for one of the younger children.

Ruby handed eighteen-year-old Molly her suitcase.

"Take this downstairs," she ordered. "Lock it in the trunk of my car and drive my car around the corner, so it doesn't get burned." Without waiting for a reply, she ran along the hallway and began banging on every door she reached. "Fire," she called. "Everybody awake. It's a fire." She noticed that the steps leading upstairs were burning, walls and floor ablaze, but she noticed no smell of gasoline or fuel and saw no sign of paper or other tinder that might have been used to start the fire.

She heard footsteps on the steps, and when she looked up, she saw the young man with the huge Afro who had been hanging around outside today.


He was wearing jockey shorts and a T-shirt and was jumping down the steps four at a time.

He started to pass Ruby without slowing, but she reached out her left arm and grabbed him around the waist.