supplied the two furniture stores, now abandoned, that flanked Socrates' sliver of a home?a corridor between the two stores that had been walled off.

Outside, the trumpet notes were loud and clear. The music took on an angry tone in the open air.

The night stars seemed to accompany the song. Socrates wondered why he didn't get up before dawn more often. The night sky was beautiful. There wasn't anyone out and it was peaceful and he was free to go anywhere with no metal bars or prison guards to stop him.

The burned-out lot was vacant but it wasn't empty. Two rusted-out cars, several large appliance boxes, various metal barrels and cans, piles of trash and even a rough and ready structure stood here and there designed by the temporary traveler, the homeless or the mad.

Socrates couldn't see the musician but that blues train continued rolling. His aunt Bellandra's words were still cold in his mind. Leaving the black dog behind the gate, Socrates walked toward the lot, leather heels slapping and gravel crackling in his wake. Everything seemed to have reason and deep purpose?the yellow light in Mrs. Melendez's window, the cold from the night breeze on his shoulders that he felt without shivering.

He stopped at the edge of the lot and watched the half moon just above the horizon.

Baby bought a new hat,

Socrates imagined the notes were saying.

She bought a yellow dress.

They were the words to a song the barber used to play on the phonograph on Saturdays when his half brother Garwood would take him for his biweekly buzz cut.

She's gonna ride that Greyhound bus and take away my best.

?Hey!? Socrates shouted and the music stopped. ?Hey!?

The answering silence was like a pressure on Socrates' eardrums.

He didn't know why he'd come out into the dark night unarmed, out in the dangerous streets of his neighborhood. Three weeks earlier a woman had been shot to death, execution style, and dropped in the alley. The neighbors said that all she wore was a silver miniskirt and one red shoe. He'd forgotten the name but she wasn't even twenty, brown and slender except that she had large breasts. When he heard of her death, Socrates' first thought was that when she was born he had already been fifteen years in an Indiana prison cell.

Something hard and metal fell. Socrates moved quickly in his awkward shoes.

?Stay 'way!? A small man leapt over a toppled water heater and ran the length of the lot through to another alley. By the time Socrates reached the end of the lot, the little man was gone.

?Looks like your watch must be a little slow today, Mr. Fortlow,? Jason Fulbright said in way of greeting. It was seven fifty-seven A.M.

?Say what?? Socrates answered, none too friendly. Fulbright was a tan-colored black man with thick lips that he compressed into the thinnest disapproving frown that he could muster. He showed Socrates his own wristwatch, tapping the crystal.

?It's almost eight,? he said, his high voice like an accusing catbird. ?You're on the seven forty-five shift aren't you??

?My bus driver must'a got it mixed up today,? Socrates said in a bit milder tone. He liked his job. He felt good coming in to work every day. He needed that paycheck too.

?Your bus gets you in too late. You should take an earlier one,? the young man said. ?Even if you get in a little early at least you'll be on time. Yes sir, if you want to make it in this business you got to take the early bus.?

Fulbright clapped Socrates on the shoulder. Maybe when he felt the rock-hard muscle of that upper arm he began to realize that he was in over his head.

?Don't put your hands on me, man,? Socrates uttered on a slight breath.

?What did you say??

?I said, keep your hands to yourself if you wanna keep 'em at all.? All the reserve he had built up, all the times he told himself that men like Jason Fulbright were just fools and not to be listened to?all of that was gone. Just a few hours of missing sleep and a strong dream? a fool playing his trumpet in the middle of the night?that's all it took, one bad morning, and Socrates was ready to throw everything away.

Unconsciously Fulbright took half a step back, but Socrates could see in the man's face that he still intended to say something else. And no matter what he said it was going to cause a fight. Not a fight but a slaughter. Fulbright was tall and strong from playing sport, but he didn't know the meaning of the kind of violence he called up in the ex-con. Socrates couldn't shake the fists out of his hands.

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