I slowly became aware of a quiet but insistent knock on my front door. Groggy, I looked at the glowing digits on the nightstand alarm clock, which read, “5:11 a.m.”
“Great,” I said aloud and exited the warm covers with some annoyance. “Just a minute!” I yelled toward the living room and grabbed my robe. Bare feet on cold wood floor wasn’t going to be pleasant.
When I reached the door, grumbling under my breath with each step, I peeked out the peephole and saw a Hispanic teenager. I opened the solid wood door to see someone vaguely familiar. “Juan?”
“Yes, Mister Ruger. You remember me?”
“Yeah …” I was still shaking off the cobwebs. “Aren’t you Angel’s nephew?”
“Yes, we met at Uncle Angel’s funeral. You said if I needed help to come see you.”
“Come in,” I said, standing aside. Juan hesitated but stepped in. I closed the door and followed the diminutive teen into the living room. I’m only 5’8” but I was a good 6 inches taller than Juan. The room was dimly lit only from the light coming out of my bedroom’s open door. Somewhat unsteadily I switched on a lamp next to the sofa.
Juan stopped and turned back toward me, not sitting down. “I need help.”
“It’s … I’m … Someone’s been beating me up at school, and no one won’t do anything about it.”
“You don’t look beat up …”
“Wait,” Juan said as he unbuttoned his shirt. He lifted up his right arm and greenish bruising was very visible, along with some nasty purple contusions. I was awake now. He buttoned back up.
“Who’s doing this to you?”
There are two boys on the basketball team that just won’t leave me alone. I didn’t do anything to them, except I refused to join the team.”
I sat down and Juan followed suit. “Why are you here at 5 in the morning?”
“I got a text before I left for school … said they were going to get me today …” He pulled out his phone and brought up the message.
I took it from him and read, “juan gonna gt beat 2day cant wait.”
“That’s from James, one of the two dudes. I just didn’t want to go to school so I jumped on a rat and came here.”
“A rat … a bus. ‘R.T.D.’ … rat …”
“I get it. What about your mom?”
“She doesn’t know. I can’t tell her.”
“And the school?”
“They said to come back when they did it again. I did that 3 times and they haven’t done nothing.”
I thought for a minute. Angel, a long-time friend, was shot by the FBI right in front of me. Unbeknownst to me or the feds at the time, he died trying to protect his sister and her kids, of which Juan was one. I couldn’t let him down.
“What’s James’ last name?”
Juan looked anxious and didn’t answer.
“It’s okay, we’ll take care of him,” I tried to assure.
“And the other boy?”
“Leon Jordan, he’s a brother.”
“You mean he’s black?” Juan nodded. “And James is white?” He nodded again. “Go home and tell your mom that you’re sick. If she hassles you about it, have her call me.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure, but I have an idea. I’ll call you tonight. Text me your number.” I paused to consider ramifications. “Can you take the bus home or should I drive you?”
“I’ll get home okay. Thank you, Mr. Ruger.” He reached out to shake my hand.
I took it and shook, and replied, “Call me ’Uncle Pat.’”