Running across the street, dodging dogs and buckboards, she hopes she’s in time, Stick could do so much damage. He quick when he riled. Lakisha looks for help; the Bossman’s threats echo, Peanut! You lookin’ for a flaying this early? The littlest of Stick’s gang. The street bustles; early morning walkers, stray dogs, coaches. No one looks like they’d do.
Only get a earful for bein’ in dey way.
Glancing down the long street at the dock Lakisha spies the tall masts of a clipper ship. Mens!
Another dog across the street, an African village dog, Lakisha recognizes from her grandmam, Aleetha’s stories of them villages. This here dog’s got hisself a big man in a vest. A Librarian?
Lakisha approaches, a hand out to sniff at. A smile for the man. Now his dog, back on its haunches watches. Please see the help I need, not just me barefoot.
“Librarian? Help.” All comes tumbling out, “Stick’s gonna kill Peanut.” His green eyes look blankly down at her. He understand? “Stick’s beatin’ Peanut. He’ll kill him!”
“A boy!” Lakisha pants, her rushing leaves so many words behind. “Hurry.” Without waiting, she’s turned, dashing back up the alley. Footsteps. Her spirits soar. He followin’!
Closing in on Peanut’s screams, the noise of the blows she’s left, going for help becomes louder; Lakisha halts. Upon her appearance, Stick’s switch grows still, taking a rest from Peanut. The small boy lies curled, whimpering.
Behind Lakisha, the Librarian’s sets a hand on her slight shoulder. She feels his dog’s breaths on her wrist. Stick’s eyes grow wide, taking in this big black shape.
He looks to this man’s vest. “Librarian?” Then his dog. Then back at his own bodyguard. Lakisha, even at thirteen, knows now: Stick be needing reassurance of back up. “This here ain’t no Library business. Make yourself scarce.”
The librarian moves forward. “Sure.” He motions, “Not my concern. But what about the Peanut?”
Stick frowns, spitting at the boy. “I gotta right to punish him. He work for me.” Lakisha’s big helper waits.
“I quit,” comes from Peanut. Weakly. He shivers, but says it all the same. Even so near Stick’s big boot. The Bossman stares now, only its aimed at Lakisha not Peanut. Not the man in the vest.
A slow smile coming over his face, the librarian’s eyes bore into Stick. “Seems he’s no longer your employee. Can’t punish him now.”
Stick eyes his bodyguard. The man’s chin motions toward the librarian. Make Stick think about what da vest means.
“Okay. You employ him.” Good luck. He eat a lot.” He waves roughly down the alley, “Let’s go.” The bodyguard and other small boys turn, following. Like it’s been Stick’s idea all along, the cedar switch making its last whipping noise through the air.
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