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The teenager standing a few feet away stared in open-mouthed silence, afraid to speak a word or even draw a breath. Horror and amazement washed over him and he wondered what the dying man was trying to say with his few remaining breaths. His father called his name, but the boy didn’t hear him. The shock of what he’d witnessed transfixed him and blocked out all other sound. So much so that his father had to jar him back to reality.

“Santea!” Ezra Harrell said again, raising his voice this time. “You hear me calling you?”

The teenager looked at his father and nodded but remained silent as he tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He hadn’t known what he would see tonight, but he never would’ve imagined something like this. Never. Even when he saw his father looking at him and motioning with his hand for him to come closer, he couldn’t move. His feet were cinder blocks. The look on the man’s ruined face, the fading light in his eyes all read death and held Santea in a trance.

Half an hour ago, when their car had arrived at the broken-down building, the teenager had struggled to contain his excitement. The shiny, chrome-plated Ruger .45 his father had given him felt heavy and real in his hands. His sweat-slicked palms had fought to maintain their grip, forcing him to switch the pistol between his hands and back again.

His father must have noticed his son’s restlessness because he nudged him and said, “Relax son, you won’t need that tonight. Put it away.”

He smiled and winked at him, giving the boy’s head a quick rub. “It isn’t loaded anyway. I just wanted you to get a feel for it. You’re here to watch and learn this time around, that’s it.”

Santea tried to hide his disappointment and looked up at his father who stood just a couple of inches taller than him. By his next birthday, he’d probably be tall enough to see clear over his daddy’s head. Not that it would matter, because he’d always have to follow his father’s law no matter how tall he grew. That would never change. The .45 seemed to twitch in his hand and he wanted to squeeze its trigger and blow something away. He wanted to empty the entire nine-round clip into anything, it didn’t matter what, just to sample the pistol’s raw power. Before tonight, he’d never held anything more hard-hitting than a tiny .25 Walther.

This Ruger, polished and magnificent, was a whole new animal to him. Obedience overpowered curiosity and Santea did as his father commanded. He slipped the pistol back into the waistband of his jeans and looked at the empty building in front of him. What a waste of time. If he wasn’t going to get in any target practice, then why were they out here in the middle of the night?

Father and son stepped deeper into the darkness, moving towards the narrow opening of the building’s basement. Meager lighting pulsed out of a fading yellow bulb dangling from the low water-stained ceiling. The air in the room was stale and suffocating and it reeked of piss and sewage. The stench assaulted Santea’s nose with all the force of an open-handed slap. He wanted to turn away and cover his nose, but if his father wouldn’t, then he wouldn’t either. He also didn’t want to miss a second of what might happen in the next few minutes, whatever that might be.

On the other side of the light-starved basement, he saw his two uncles. His father’s older brothers stood on either side of a beaten down man who was slumped on all fours. Through the thick, purple bruises and caked blood on the man’s swollen face, Santea recognized him as one of his father’s workers. What could he have done to deserve this kind of ass-whippin’?